Written by: Nadirah Naima
The 22nd Annual American Black Film Festival graced beautiful South Beach, Miami with its presence this past weekend and was nothing short of amazing. The Loews Miami Beach Hotel’s floors overflowed with melanated greatness. Diction from around the globe encompassed the vibrational airwaves, creating a sweet hubbub that sounded like individual symphonies from the heart of the motherland. ABFF is simply a mecca for the black creative.
Screenings this year ranged from all different kinds of topics such as crime, love, friendships, gentrification and more. Bobby and Whitney were even able to show up at the same theatre. Whitney Houston’s documentary “Whitney” premiered at The Colony Theatre as did Bobby Brown’s “Clips and Conversations” about his upcoming biopic presented by BET. I must say that the “G-Funk” documentary (which airs this July on YouTube) was quite authentic and informative. Director Karam Gill did a phenomenal job of bringing together interviews from members of G-Funk and rappers from that time period, to express their true experiences within an era of HipHop that made a remarkable impact on history. The music included in the soundtrack had everyone in the audience reminiscing while bobbing their heads to the beats and humming along.
The most insightful part of the festival without a doubt had to be the "ABFF Talks". Each discussion gave the audience an in depth, candid look at the genetic makeup of an artist dedicated to the passion within creation. When you are as handsome and charismatic on camera as Kofi Siriboe (of Queen Sugar) you have a lot to live up to off camera and trust me Kofi did not disappoint at all. During the “Hot in Hollywood” discussion Kofi was extremely open about his past experiences; finding himself while going through the peaks and valleys of fame and at times dealing with mental illness. “Be honest with your personal process you don’t heal what you don’t reveal. It’s always Me Vs. Me, a constant battle with self confidence.” These were some of the many beautiful gems that Kofi dropped when asked about self care and his preparation process. Jacob Latimore (of The Chi) spoke about humility and how his grandpa instilled morals in him from a young age that he still keeps with him to this day, stating; “Don’t boast yourself up, let God boast you up, because the minute you do decide to be boastful God will smack you right down.” Breesha Webb was funny and clever but there was still much truth and realness in her humor. She shared with the audience her experience before fame, when she worked at Sam's Club and how she remained confident in her craft even when she hadn’t made it yet. She shared that when she would give out chicken sausage samples to customers, she would also hand out little papers with her show dates written on them. Now that’s what I call dedication! Sista girl was not about to play with that little Sam's Club check without pushing her dreams forward. The energy from that discussion put forth a great amount of positivity and motivation that overwhelmed the room and had everyone raising their hands with questions during Q&A time.
Cody Elaine Olivier and Tommie Olivier had me in my feelings with the "Black Love" (OWN Network) "Clips and Conversations" panel. Actor Michael Jai White, his wife (actress/writer) Gillian Iliana White and social media sensations Khadeen and Devale Ellis sat down on a couch and delve into their personal love lives and what it takes to make love last. Both couples stressed the importance of letting go of unrealistic expectations while allowing yourself to be vulnerable and real with your partner. Michael Jai White said, when asked about what it takes to endure the rough patches in marriage, “Who can replace your best friend --and with that thought how much would it take to get to that level with your partner?” There was this natural glow amongst the couples, a sincere happiness that touched me and made me want to go home and kiss my husband, but the romance would have to wait until later because I had to make it to the conversation with Ryan Coogler.
When director Ryan Coogler walked on stage for “A Conversation with Ryan Coogler” it was as if T’Challah had just walked into the Kingdom of Wakanda. Everyone immediately stood up and began clapping, and [of course] laid crossed arms to chests while shrugging their shoulders up and down for a proper Wakanda greeting. He spoke so humbly about his life before the film and how he made it to where he is now. I couldn’t help but to notice how much his tone of voice and the way his sentences rolled off his tongue with swagger sounded like Kllmonger. This made sense because; technically they’re both from Oakland, California. It was indeed no surprise when he let us know that he enjoyed working closely with Michael B. Jordan and that they happened to be really good friends. He told us that his dad was a huge Rocky fan and that as he was filming Fruitvale Station he pitched the idea for Creed to Sylvester Stallone. Sylvester wasn’t interested until he pitched it to him again later for a second time. During the interview Ryan often stuttered and stammered but it only made him more likable and let us know that even though he has created masterpieces that will forever influence the culture he is still human. I’m certain the audience would have unanimously agreed that “This IS our king.”
Sunday was the last day of the festival and it was only right that ABFF held a community day at the historic Lyric Theatre in Overtown. With the abundance of gentrification going on in that area it was satisfying to see us so lively in a neighborhood that was nestled with countless black celebrities during a time when they weren’t welcomed on South Beach. The official selection of the American Black Film Festival was a film called “The Flea” which was shot in Miami. The film was hilarious, Isaac Beverly played a stressed out manger of the infamous Miami Flea Market. It was reminiscent of Next Friday, with its combination of real life hood scenarios mixed with relatable humor.
It’s hard to believe that The American Black Film Festival was once a small film retreat in Acapulco, Mexico with as little as 90 attendees. Now, 22 years later, ABFF stands strong with well over 5,000 in attendance and well over 40 big name sponsors and partners. Jeff Friday (the founder of ABFF) and his beautiful wife, Nicole Friday, have mastered the art of making everyone feel like family. They bring together the best of the best in the industry while providing aspiring creatives the opportunity to interact and build with industry trailblazers.
The history of Black Cinema goes back way before motion pictures in color and before they could incorporate sound to birth modern movie making. We have come a long way from watermelon-eating minstrel shows. Not only is the American Black Film Festival a place where black artists can feel comfortable in their unapologetic black excellence, but it is also a platform that allows the world to witness how a rose can grow from concrete.