By Dennis J. Freeman
The opening night of the 19th Annual Pan African Film Festival featured a lot of glam and glow. Film stars such as Nate Parker, Nicole Ari Parker and husband Boris Kodjoe, Jill Marie Jones, Meagan Good, Clifton Powell and Salli Richardson-Whitfield and marriage mate Dondre Whitfield, made their way down the red carpet to catch a glimpse of syndicated radio host Russ Parr’s new film “35 and Ticking.”
It was a grand night for the Pan African Film Festival (PAFF), the largest international black film festival worldwide. Hosted by Parker (Great Debaters), a two-time NAACP Image Award nominee, PAFF kicked off the weeklong event of film and film short screenings with a lot of buzz in and around the Culver Plaza Theatre.
Parr’s “35 and Ticking,” a romantic comedy about a group of 30-year-olds trying to figure out their love lives while coping with getting older, may have had something to do with the great opening night turnout. But the film festival’s selection to showcase 121 films, representing 31 countries, including Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, Canada and the United States, could have also played a large part in the red carpet extravaganza and excitement.
“I am very excited about this year’s film selections,” says Asantewa Olatunji, the director of programming at PAFF. “I personally believe this is one of the best lineups that we’ve had in the history of the Pan African Film Festival.” She continues, “Over the years, the filmmakers from around the world have become more sophisticated in telling their stories. It’s going to be really tough for our judges to pick winners in the film competition.”
Among the hottest films being shown at the festival are “I Will Follow” starring Salli-Richardson-Whitfield and Blair Underwood, “The Inheritance” featuring actor Keith David, and “Kiss and Tell,” which includes an all-star cast with Nia Long, Pam Grier, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Mackie and hot newcomer Suzette Tomlinson. Parker, who will be starring in an upcoming feature film, “Red Tails,” an epic docudrama about the Tuskegee Airmen, said it’s important to come out and support these films.
“This means everything,” Parker told news4usonline.com. “It is of the utmost importance. It is my goal and my mission to continue that in a way that’s unapologetic. It is everything that I do; everything that I love is rooted in my connection to Africa. I think it’s important that we do everything we can to rebuild the bridge that has been torn down by slavery. Once we do that, we’ll be able to celebrate Africans all over the Diaspora in solidarity.”
Dondre Whitfield, who co-stars in “35 and Ticking,” said coming out to support black films and movies with an African connection to it is not something he had to think twice about.
“To come out and support our films is a no-brainer,” Whitfield said. “If we’re not going to support our films, who will? It’s a no-brainer to come out and support our films, especially when they are good films.”
While the work productivity have increased resulting from more and more black films being made, particularly through the independent medium, recognition by inclusion continues to escape African Americans and African actors. The continued whitewashing by the Academy Awards to honor black films and black actors is a slap-in-the-face reality for these men and women wanting to be acknowledged for their work in Hollywood.
An example of this reality is the Tyler Perry film “For Colored Girls,” a rich, complex and well-done look at the lives of a group of black women. Despite receiving rave reviews and the Oscar-worthy acting of Kimberly Elise, Janet Jackson and Loretta Devine, “For Colored Girls” was shut out of the Golden Globe and Academy Awards nomination picture. Being snubbed by the two major leading awards ceremonies continue to be an issue confronting black actors, said Whitfield.
“It’s really hard…it’s difficult for you to be recognized for your work when it seems to be a diminishing number of roles for these films, “Whitfield told news4usonline.com. If you’re not in those films, it’s really difficult to be recognized for that work when you don’t have a proper platform. We seemed to have digressed a little.”
For actor Boris Kodjoe, seeing more black films is all about supply and demand.
“This is terribly important,” Kodjoe said. “If there’s not going to be a demand, there’s not going to be a supply. In order to see more black films, we have to support the black films presently. I don’t care if it’s a television show, if it’s film, if it’s theater, we have to support it and come out. We have a trillion dollars of buying power, but we have to support projects that we want to see more often.”