With Sundance 2013 upon us, we genuinely celebrate filmmakers of color whose works have made it onto this year’s slate. We, at the American Black Film Festival (ABFF), cannot help but indulge in our own film version of “fantasy football.”
Each of us names our favorite Black director of the moment, whether established (Spike Lee, John Singleton, Lee Daniels, Antoine Fuqua, Tim Story, Kasi Lemmons, Gina Prince-Bythewood) or emerging (Ryan Coogler, Ava DuVernay, Shaka King, Dee Rees, Rashaad Ernesto Green), and enthusiastically argues the case for why our auteur pick will have their movie’s official world premiere at one of the nation’s quality Black film festivals (ours included) -- Pan African Film & Arts Festival, American Black Film Festival, Hollywood Black Film Festival, Urbanworld.
We romanticize the revolutionary stance they would take with their “Best Picture” contender and enact the statements made to the press, relishing their impact. Boy, is it fun! While I can’t transcribe any of the outlandish sound bites from those closed-door debates, I can attempt to convey the sentiment.
Think about some of the top NFL talent-producing colleges in the country: Notre Dame, Alabama, USC, Ohio State, etc. A strong case can be made that the hundreds of skilled African American players that those white institutions supply to the NFL are largely what fuels their great power and prominence. What if the top Black NFL high school prospects were all persuaded to enter Howard this fall, and again in 2014 and beyond? Suddenly, Howard would win the BCS title and catapult to fame as the #1 football program in America, be flooded with funding, and all would bask in the glow of glory. Proving that when we band together and support each other, we can affect great change.
Black film festivals work year-round to find new ways to help promote our stories and storytellers who too often remain marginalized. We rally to build a strong network within the industry, to grow the power base and the opportunities. Yet, our efficacy is often challenged: “What’s the relevance of Black film festivals?”
The same question is often asked of Black colleges. And across the board, it’s a level response: Underlying their respective missions is the goal of creating a supportive community. And let’s not fool ourselves – we can use all the support we can get! So, the next time those questions arise, let’s remind ourselves of some of the success stories that have come from Black colleges (I’m focused on the Arts): Phylicia Rashad, Samuel L. Jackson, Debbie Allen, Spike Lee, Taraji P. Henson; and Black film festivals: Will Packer (named by Variety as one of their “10 Producers to Watch”), Rob Hardy, Roger Bobb, Sylvain White and Emayatzy Corinealdi, to name a few.
I prefer to reflect on the positive and then ask, “What have I done to contribute to our legacy in this country and what more can I do?” Not to toot our own horn, but in that traditional American way, I shall. Here’s a quote, verbatim, from award-winning filmmaker Lee Daniels regarding the ABFF (17 years and counting), "I’ve been to film festivals all over the world and I can say, that this is the best.”
Who doesn’t appreciate being appreciated? There it is a nutshell! A little fantasy, a lot of hope and the sustained efforts by indie filmmakers to complete new works despite all the obstacles is what drives us to ensure that we – together with our many supporters who believe in what we do – maintain a platform for Black artists to be seen, heard and celebrated. My long-term goal is to help level the playing field so that Black artists can have the same opportunities and access in this business as their white counterparts.
In closing, I leave you with these words of Ralph Ellison from The Invisible Man:
"Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat."
Founder, American Black Film Festival