The 20th annual Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival (MVAAFF), founded by Stephanie and Floyd Rance, opened Friday evening with a robust crowd at a screening of Descendant, a searing documentary helmed by filmmaker Margaret Brown. The film follows the residents of Africatown, Alabama, the descendants of the Clotilda, the last known slave ship to hit American shores long after the transatlantic slave trade had been outlawed. The Netflix film is produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions, and the former POTUS and First Lady surprised the crowd when they stepped out to introduce the film.

“When we screened this, we immediately thought, this is why we’re doing Higher Ground,” Mrs. Obama said. “As Black people, we don’t talk about things, and there is a lot of psychology around that. But, what this film reminds us of is the power that our stories have, and we have to tell that truth.” 

Photo: Netflix

Former President Barack Obama added, “Descendant captures an important chapter in our history; one that is too often distorted or forgotten or buried, and it begins more than a century and a half ago. Like so many stories, it was passed down through whispers, alluded to, generation through generation. For the people in Africatown, it represented a story of extraordinary pain and hardship, but also a story about strength, resilience, and overcoming. For others in Alabama, it was a story that was denied and pushed aside. But regardless, as the novelist William Faulkner once said, ‘The past is never dead and buried; it isn’t even past.’ There’s something about the truth of history that has a way of resurfacing and coming to the light.”

Photo: Netflix

Following the surprise appearance by the Obamas, Dr. Jessica Harris moderated a Color of Conversation with Brown and producers Essie Chambers, Kyle Martin, Dr. Kern Jackson, and Clotilda descendants Joycelyn Davis and Rose “Veda” Tunstall. 

MVAAFF, which runs from Aug. 5-13 this year, has a powerful line up including a 25th-anniversary screening of Eve’s Bayou, followed by a Color of Conversation with director Kasi Lemmons. The forthcoming Kerry Washington-directed Hulu/Onyx Collective series, Reasonable Doubt, starring Emayatzy Corinealdi, will also be premiering. 

Tyler Perry will host clips and conversations on his upcoming Netflix epic, A Jazzman’s Blues. There will also be a screening of Hulu/Onyx Collective’s Aftershock, followed by a panel discussion with directors Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee. 

Netflix will also be premiering From Scratch, the new series based on Tembi Locke’s breathtaking memoir. 

Later in the week, Malcolm D. Lee and Morris Chestnut will be attending to present clips from Peacock’s forthcoming, The Best Man: The Final Chapters. Regina Hall will host a talk about her career, and latest project, Honk For Jesus, Save You Soul, and Oscar-winner Viola Davis will be in town to showcase clips and conversations from The Woman King

For more information on the MVAAFF and a complete schedule of screenings and special events, please visit