Film is the ultimate vehicle for image making, creating legends or myths, story-telling, education, mis-education, stereotyping, entertainment and a host of other uses. It is film, whether features, documentaries, educational, shorts, or animation that are quoted most when making a point. I’m sure all of us have heard a similar conversation, “Man, you remember that scene we saw in that movie the other night about that sister and that brother working on that farm, that’s what I was talking about what my grandparents used to do.”
Other than daydreaming, music and whatever else we use to mentally escape, film can allow us a couple hours or so to absorb ourselves into a storyline that may have nothing to do with reality, but gives our mind a rest from the tensions and stresses of the day. It can also serve as a supreme educational tool to augment a particular lesson, especially with today’s young visual generation, who do not cherish literature as earlier generations have, and grew up watching more movies and music videos than any other preceding generation.
What has become exceedingly enjoyable, particularly in the last four decades, is the emergence of films made by people of Afrikan descent. No one can tell the story of a particular culture better than the members of that culture. In the beginning, people of Afrikan descent were generally casts as slaves, servants, domestic workers, or some subservient role. If someone got killed, we know who the first person was to die.
Now that there are an abundance of filmmakers of Afrikan descent, worldwide, it is a pleasure to go to a theater or film festival and see our stories on the big screen. Although most filmmakers learned their craft through a European American educational institution, and copied styles they admired, some are developing their own styles.
What is distressing about commercial films made by filmmakers of Afrikan descent, even someone like Denzel Washington, critics will give them complimentary reviews, while giving other white made films of lesser quality, rave reviews. This is where there is a distinct culture difference, and no, we are not all alike. Filmmakers of Afrikan descent will make films that pierce the center of our hearts. When we walk out of the theater thinking that was really a great film, many white and negro Hollywood slave critics will bash or minimize its importance.
The box office is another indicator. The recent film, ‘The Great Debaters,’ which many felt was one of the best films they have ever seen, including myself, to date has garnered only around 30 million dollars. That is basically kid’s play, as far as financial movie profits go, but standard for black films, compared to the fantasy special effects films made today.
What is presently very significant, we have a film festival in Los Angeles, the Pan African Film & Arts Festival (, the premiere black film festival in America. There are so many films we never get a chance to see, and now we can. Through personal experience, some of the best films we will ever see were at the festival, films we otherwise would have never been able to see. Can you imagine having your pick of some 175 films, not only from the United States, but also from Afrika, the Caribbean, Latin America, the South Pacific, Canada and Europe? Practically every type of film one would want to see is represented. This is the black film nirvana of the year.
We complain all year about not being able to see enough films by people of Afrikan descent. From February 7 through 18, the Magic Johnson Theaters, at the Crenshaw/Baldwin Hills Mall in Los Angeles, will be graced with some of the best films we will have the special privilege to see. Even those with busy schedules should be able to make at least one day. If you are a movie junky, you will certainly get your fix here. This is a once a year event like no other.
The extra added attraction is the social value. Probably the most conscious people in Southern California will be around. It is always such a groove to be among other Afrikan folks, who know they are Afrikans. And if that isn’t enough, the art festival is the place to hang out in between films, or just to have a place to chill and see great art. Some of the best art and cultural wears are right there. If you saved up your money all year to purchase some of the best art and Afrikan cloths, you are going walk away smiling.
There is not a better place to celebrate and enjoy this month we have been given. Even though Roman emperors stole some days from February to romanticize themselves: July (for Julius) August (for Augustus), October (for Octavia, sister of Augustus), we can make it meaningful for ourselves. After all, our culture is timeless.