Black culture, diaspora celebrated at Afrikana Film Festival

Photo by Muktaru Jalloh
Photo by Muktaru Jalloh.
Photo by Muktaru Jalloh
Photo by Muktaru Jalloh

The first annual Afrikana Film Festival featured a series of events that sought to expose and showcase the works of black filmmakers and artists around the world premiered Sept. 15 and ran through Sept. 18.

Among the most notable events was Friday’s “30 Year Anniversary Screening, “She’s Gotta Have It!“and Saturday’s “The Hip-Hop Fellow with 9th Wonder” and “Miles Ahead with Robert Glasper Artist Talk.”

Hosted at Grace Theatre, Friday’s “She’s Gotta Have It!” screening featured a Q&A with instrumental filmmaker and co-producer to the film, Monty Ross. The event celebrated Spike Lee’s first feature-length film, “She’s Gotta Have it!,” released in 1986.

Itis one of the most historic films of it’s era, serving as one of the first successful independent films made by a black director. While Spike Lee would go onto to creating future landmark films such as 1989’s “Do The Right Thing” and 1992’s “Malcolm X”, it was this film that helped launch his career.

“She’s Gotta Have It!” documents a young woman’s sexuality and challenges gender norms and concepts of sexism and misogyny. Most importantly, it flips the traditional narrative of male dominance in sexuality while also establishing a black woman as the strongest character in the film. During the talk afterwards, Ross talked about the struggles he and Lee faced while making the film with 12 days and a $175,000 budget.

“It felt like an explosion. Lines around the block it was crazy,” Ross said. “At the end of a five week run, we accumulated 3 million dollars. Spike had the strong sense that he wanted black folks to have films that they were comfortable with.”

After “She’s Gotta Have It!,” Lee and Ross’s co-founded production company, 40 Acres and a Mule, would go onto produce eight films in 10 years and direct pieces like famed Nike/Jordan brand commercials as well. The film has now been placed to become a new Netflix series in which Lee announced the night before.

When an audience member asked about the lack of unity when it comes to black artists and black films today, Ross said he believes it’s due to Hollywood.

“We’re afraid. That model as been around for years,” Ross said. “The model of being self sufficient and creating your own line of credit. But when a check is written is where all of the movement falls to the wayside.They’re not gonna give us 10 movies a year because that’s gonna mess up the economics”

Ross, now an African-American studies professor at ODU, said he is proud of the work he was able to create and continues to work with independent producers and directors.

“I look at it like how Barry Gordy looks at Motown,” Ross said.

The festival continued on Saturday afternoon with the screening of “The Hip-Hop Fellow” at the Bijou Theater. The documentary details the musical journey of legendary hip-hop producer 9th Wonder. Born Patrick Douthit, 9th Wonder has now made it from being a producer in his hometown of North Carolina to being a Harvard University Fellow in their Hip-Hop Archive.

Throughout this career, 9th Wonder has won a Grammy award, founded his own group Little Brother and produced for the likes of JAY Z, Beyonce and Mary J. Blige.

Created with public intellectual and literary critic Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., the fellowship seeks to trace Hip-Hop’s roots and celebrate it’s most important members. In the film, famed artists discuss the origins of Hip-Hop and praise 9th Wonder’s contributions toward the culture.

“He has the love for it. He has the drive for it.” said Grammy award winning artist Kendric Lamar. “He’s a genius, it’s only right.”

In addition to showing footage of Gates teaching his classes and a trip to South Africa, it also sheds light on his final thesis, “These are the Breaks: Studying of the Lineage of Vinyl Sampling.” Sampling, which has been described as a lazy musical approach by people in the past, is one of keystone pieces to the genre of hip-hop in terms of production.

“We look at it like pictures in the Louvre,” 9th Wonder said. “Without us, a lot of these artists are forgotten about.”

The festival concluded a screening of this year’s film, Miles Ahead at the Richmond Convention Center. A biopic of legendary jazz player, Miles Davis, played by Don Cheadle, the film documents the turbulent career of one of the most influential jazz artists of all time.

The film takes a free form approach by flashing back on different periods of his career while focusing on his comeback in the late ‘70s. After the screening, film scorer and musical director Robert Glasper talked about the making of the film, his career and his thoughts on jazz going forward.

Glasper, a Grammy-award winner, began his career with playing with The Roots band and was first inspired by jazz music when he first heard Davis’ cover of Michael Jackson’s hit, “Human Nature.” Years later, he would be called upon by Cheadle to handle the film’s score.

Last year, Glasper also won a Grammy for his contributions to Kendrick Lamar’s critically acclaimed album, “To Pimp A Butterfly.” The album, which features heavy dosage of live instrumentation, has headlined the latest trend of hip-hop and jazz infusion.

“I think that album is big on many levels,” Glasper said. “Both (jazz and Hip-Hop) were born out of necessity of hardships. It’s rejuvenated the jazz scene.”

With albums like Lamar’s, Glasper hopes to continue to see music alleviate the problems of the day in the midst of pressing social issues.

“I hope that it continues to heal,” Glasper said. “Music is alternative medicine,”

With a huge turnout to many events, the Afrikana Film Festival did exactly what it sought to do. In a city of rich and painful black culture, it’s imperative that events like it to continue to manifest.


Muktaru JallohMuktaru Jalloh
Muktaru is a graduate student working on a Master’s of Teaching after earning an undergraduate degree in English and Political Science. In addition to writing for the CT, he also co-founds his own music and arts site, STROKES N RHYMES. Topic areas Muktaru enjoys covering include music, sports and pop culture.
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