By Lenore T. Adkins, Special to the AFRO
When groundbreaking films such as “Black Panther” do well, they have the power to uplift Blacks around the world by representing a swath of the Black experience and becoming global sensations — but even they are not enough, says Diarah N’daw-Spech, cofounder of the African Diaspora International Film Festival.
She argues that despite the success of “Black Panther,” there’s still a critical need for Black representation beyond the African-American experience — and that’s where her film festival comes in.
‘That’s something that’s very important because it enables folks to realize that the Black experience as lived by the African Americans is also the experience lived by Afro-French, Afro-Germans and Afro-Caribbeans,” said N’daw-Spech, who was born in France to a French mother and a Malian father. “Once you make that connection, it easier to have more respect for one another.”
The roster for the 12th annual festival, which will be held at the George Washington University Marvin Center from Aug. 17 through Aug. 19, will screen 16 movies, eight of which were directed by Black women — an all-time high for the event.
One of those films is the hour-long documentary “Paris Noir: African Americans in the City of Life.” It explores the Black American-influence in the City of Light from World War I through the end of World War II.
It dives into African-American soldiers’ contributions in the military, their collaborations with French soldiers, the rise of jazz in Paris and Harlem Renaissance artists, intellectuals and writers including Josephine Baker, Langston Hughes and James Baldwin fleeing racism in the United States for relative freedom in Paris. It ends with African-American achievements in World War II.
“It’s packed, so you come away with very, very rich information,” said Julia Browne, the film’s associate producer who was born in England, lives in Toronto and divides her time between Canada and France. “You don’t feel drowned at the end but you know you’ve gotten a lot of helpful information.”
Other movies shed light on the Black immigrant experience and raise awareness pg themes that are universal to people of color worldwide.
“(La Belle Vie: The Good Life” by Rachelle Salnave examines the challenges she faced growing up as a Haitian-American in Harlem.
“No Shade” by Clare Anyiam-Osigwe is a romantic comedy/drama centering on colorism in the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile, “Boma Tervuran: The Journey” from Francis Dujardin dives into the tragic and sometimes fatal journey that 267 Congolese men and women faced in 1897 when King Leopold II imported them to Belgium for a human zoo.
Organizers have also planned two cinematic programs — one centered on African Americans in Europe and the other one focusing on Afro-Latinos.
“Black Mexicans” by Jorge Pérez Solano is a Mexican drama shot in a Black Mexican community with locals that aims to give them a platform and make them visible.
Lighter fare includes “Streetlight Harmonies” by Brent Wilson, which tracks the history of American popular music from Doo-wop to Motown, to the British Invasion.
N’daw-Spech and her husband, Reinaldo Spech of Cuba, pick the movies every year by reviewing submissions, attending major film festivals, like Sundance and Cannes, keeping an eye on future releases and encouraging people who screened movies at other film festivals to consider showcasing their work at the African Diaspora International Film Festival.
The Spechs charge themselves with selecting films that not only offer social commentary and a high production value, but that also show how Black people live all over the world and give moviegoers something to think about.
“These are films that open up a window on the American reality from a specific community,” N’daw-Spech said. “My advice, get the pass, see all the films over the weekend. Because when you do that…you kind of become like you enter into a different world…and then u start to see the connections.”