PHOTOS COURTESY OF KEVIN HICKS
By ISHEKA N. HARRISON
It is SO important that blacks tell their own stories. And maybe that’s why 8,500 beautiful black people invaded South Beach last week for the 21st Annual American Black Film Festival (ABFF).
A mix of current and aspiring entertainment professionals and media consumers took in films, master classes, boot camps, networking lounges, expert and celebrity panels, live performances, intimate talks with industry insiders, receptions, parties, a free community day and more!
Though the festival was lots of fun, it’s true purpose is to equip and inspire content creators of color – filmmakers, actors, producers, writers, composers, etc. (and those aspiring to be so) – to change the face of the entertainment industry, along with the mainstream narratives attached to black and brown faces.
Founded by Jeff Friday, the festival’s website states it is “dedicated to showcasing quality film and television content by and about people of African descent, and supporting emerging artists to diversify the images and storytellers working in the entertainment industry.”
This year’s selection of TV shows and film screenings definitely lived up to the hype.
Everything from web series and comedy to highly anticipated films and documentaries were featured.
Some of the crowd’s favorites included: “Girls Trip,” “Downsized,” “TV One’s original drama, “When Love Kills: The Falicia Blakely Story,” the season 2 premiere of Issa Raye’s “Insecure” and the highly anticipated biopic about iconic rapper Tupac Amaru Shakur (also known as Pac), “All Eyez on Me,” among others.
“Girls Trip” is a film about four friends and their escapades at the Essence Festival starring Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Regina Hall and Tiffany Haddish.
At a panel about the film, producer Will Packer, director Malcolm Lee and actress Regina Hall shared their experiences making the film.
“Essence Fest is near and dear to me,” said Packer, who met his wife at the festival. He spoke about their intention to keep it authentic despite the studios they pitched asking about diversifying the main characters.
“You don’t see a crew of two Latinas and two sisters at Essence Fest. It’s sisters. We’re going to be true to what it really is,” Packer said.
Despite the starring cast being all black, Lee said the film still had major appeal to all audiences because it was relatable.
“We made a really funny movie. It’s relatable across the board. We could not be more universal,” Lee said.
Hall said she was grateful for the way other black women rally around her.
“I feel like I have never been more supported and welcome than by people in my community … by women … I applaud it and receive it,” Hall said.
“When Love Kills: The Falicia Blakely Story” is based on the true story of Blakely, who is serving life in prison for killing her abusive and manipulative lover as well as two other men. In the TV One film, Lil Mama and Lance Gross portray Falicia and Dino, the dysfunctional couple, respectively. It is produced by Tasha Smith, who is also a well-respected actress and acting coach.
“Downsized” is a family-friendly film about a man fighting to keep his family together after making tons of mistakes during his 25-year marriage. It stars real life husband and wife duo Nicole Ari Parker and Boris Kudjoe as a couple on the verge of divorce.
During a panel discussion with the cast after the film, one attendee stood up and said we need more films like it.
“We need more stories like this because so often there is no forgiveness for our (black men’s) mistakes, but here you get to see the maturity,” the gentleman said.
Kudjoe said blacks in the industry shouldn’t be afraid to collaborate more.
“Let’s not be scared anymore to share information, to share advice. Let’s work together because together there’s nothing we can’t accomplish. … The crabs in the bucket thing is so outdated,” Kudjoe said.
The “Insecure” Season 2 premiere drew a standing room only crowd with leading man Lawrence (played by Jay Ellis) heating up the red carpet before the premiere. If audience reactions to the screening are any indication, Season 2 will keep viewers tuned in for more of Issa Raye’s show.
The closing night film, “All Eyez on Me,” was shown on multiple screens at the Regal Theater to accommodate the crowd, but celebrities and movie-goers still packed each theater to the brim.
Though the film has received bad reviews from critics and some viewers, those at ABFF clapped when it ended. Actor Demetrius Shipp, who plays the legendary rapper, did a reasonable job, especially considering it was his first time acting with no prior training. In fact, his resemblance to Pac is almost scary and in some cases his mannerisms were so spot on, it was like watching the late rapper move all over again.
Also, since Pac has almost been immortalized in death, one could argue that even if the movie were beyond stellar, many of his fans would not be pleased.
Other attractions included multiple lounges (i.e. style, power, American Express, etc.), a virtual reality experience, a Cadillac showroom, a tech talk and more.
Lines were wrapped around the corners of the theaters and many events sold out. One of the cons of the event was there were so many good things happening at the same time that attendees couldn’t possibly make it to everything that caught their interests – which is a good problem to have.
Overall the 21st annual ABFF was a phenomenal experience.
Not only were attendees entertained, they were educated and exposed to first-hand knowledge that could help them turn their passions into profits.
They were poured into by many people they see in movies and on TV every day and given an array of resources to cultivate their crafts. During certain sessions, the festival was so inspiring, attendees likened panel discussions to church.
Though ABFF stands for American Black Film Festival, it could also stand for:‘Always Beautiful Fabulous & Fun.’
Over two decades ago Jeff Friday created something special and blacks from all parts of the African Diaspora should be proud to call this festival their own.