The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) kicked off its inaugural African American Film Festival this week, October 24 through October 27. The Film Festival celebrates African American visual culture and cinema and will showcase more than 80 films, including 15 world premieres as part of a juried competition. Shadow and Act was on the scene to cover this historic moment.
The first day included an impressive curation of films from both seasoned and emerging directors with diverse perspectives. Collectively, they covered historical, contemporary and futuristic themes centering on freedom, resistance and restoration, all rooted in the African American tradition and experience.
The first screening of the day, the D.C. premiere of Integration Report One (1960) by Madeline Anderson, was fitting. Anderson is lauded as a pioneer in filmmaking, with the distinction of being the first African American woman to direct a documentary film that was televised. Anderson launched her works in the sixties even though she was repeatedly told there was no target audience for them. “I am overjoyed,” Anderson told Shadow and Act after the screening, while surrounded by her family and fans. “For this great museum to recognize me for my contributions in Black art and culture is such an honor, and I deeply appreciate it.” On Thursday, October 25, there will be a special tribute to Anderson, along with Charles Burnett, at the Night of The Museum Celebration.
Lebert “Sandy” Bethune, co-director of the 1964 documentary Malcolm X: Struggle for Freedom, echoed Anderson’s sentiments to Shadow and Act, describing his film’s official addition to the NMAAHC collection as “one of the proudest moments in my life.”
His documentary, shot on 16mm film, was acquired and restored by the museum and chronicles the life of Malcolm X through rarely seen footage just three months before his 1965 assassination. The film opens with a voice-over question: “Who is the Black man?” Malcolm X answers in part, “Someone who has been stripped of their name, culture and history.” Bethune, who incidentally was also Langston Hughes’ assistant, spent a lifetime fighting against the erasure that Malcolm X referenced through his activism and celebrated works. “There is no better place for my contributions to be,” he said.
Against the backdrop of African American history and iconic Black filmmakers, Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen’s latest film, Widows, served as the feature film for the opening night of the festival. Starring Academy Award-winning powerhouse Viola Davis, the crime thriller gives Davis what she needs to shine in every scene, showing that Black excellence in cinema will only continue.
The upcoming schedule includes a screening of the biopic of the entertainment industry legend Quincy Jones, Quincy, on Friday, October 26, followed by a Q&A with his daughter, Rashida Jones, who co-directed this Netflix original. The grand finale on Saturday, October 27, will be a screening of Oscar-winner Barry Jenkins’ much-anticipated film If Beale Street Could Talk, an adaptation of James Baldwin’s acclaimed novel of the same name, followed by a Q&A with Jenkins.
Tickets are required to attend the festival. Visit the NMAAHC’s website for a complete list of films and additional information.