A still from Afua’s Diary, produced by Bibi Owusu Shadbolt and Pixelex Aspect
The Erasure of the African Diaspora From Visual Mass Media and Why the Women of African Descent Film Festival is so important
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 3 | BY KEYA CRENSHAW
As a freelance creative (Theatremaker, Filmmaker, Placemaker, Image Consultant, Development Coordinator…), I know at first hand that steady opportunities do not often present themselves. I don’t need to tell you how grossly underfunded and drastically unrepresented the arts are in our schools and communities. I hardly need to describe ad infinitum how hard it is to be acknowledged and compensated for your hard work. As those of us who are lucky enough to be artists and/or arts administrators already know, it is an endless uphill battle to raise funds, support public art, and design and support education programs, let alone get paid. When said opportunities do land on our doorstep, we hold on to them for dear life. That is why it is my pleasure to say 2016 marks my ninth year with The Women of African Descent Film Festival (WADFF) in Brooklyn, New York.
Presented by the Brooklyn Chapter of the Links, Inc., WADFF represents the notion that, through the medium of film, filmmakers of African descent document and relay the stories of our past, present, and future. And they in turn have become the new historians—“preservers of our legacy.” Formed in 1952, The Brooklyn Chapter of The Links is dedicated to the support of educational, civic and cultural activities in Brooklyn. It is a chapter of The Links, Inc., an international not-for-profit corporation and historically Black service organization whose membership consists of 14,000 professional women of color in 282 chapters located in 41 states, the District of Columbia, and the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. The Brooklyn Chapter works under the guidelines of its national organization in providing services to its Brooklyn Community in five mission areas: The Arts, Services to Youth, National Trends and Services, International Trends, and Health and Wellness. A focus of the Chapter’s arts programming is to empower women and youth by lending support and encouragement to emerging artists—with a particular focus on filmmakers for the past 15 years.
The Women of African Descent Film Festival represents the notion that, through the medium of film, filmmakers of African descent document and relay the stories of our past, present, and future. And they in turn have become the new historians—“preservers of our legacy.”
The foundation for all of the chapter’s programs and services is rooted in the African American tradition of giving and volunteering. Members share a deep sense of communal responsibility and for the past 63 years have been committed to actively initiating and supporting educational, cultural, and civic programs that positively impact the lives of people of African descent residing in Brooklyn.
This marks the 15th run of the daylong festival, which takes place the first Saturday of May, this year, May 7th, at Long Island University Brooklyn. Its mission is to showcase films which are centered around the theme of Linkages: Women, Their Families, Neighborhoods, and the Global Community, and to support the artistic development of Women filmmakers of African Descent by providing a supportive exhibition platform, offering stipends to participants, and seeking industry opportunities that will help to expose the filmmakers’ works and further their careers.
The media constantly bombards us with negative images of people of African descent, more specifically, women. Our positive accomplishments, uplifting experiences, and gifts to humanity get little attention. The Brooklyn Chapter believes it is vitally important that our legacy be maintained, nurtured and preserved and it is our responsibility to shape the public’s perception of who we are as a people. To counteract the adverse portrayal of African Americans in the movies and media, in 2002 the Brooklyn Chapter initiated Linkages: Women of African Descent Film Festival.
By choosing and screening films that depict the positive linkages that women of African descent have to their families, neighborhoods and communities, the film festival is able to effectively influence peoples’ perceptions through the medium of film. As a requirement, all films must be produced, written or directed by a female filmmaker of African descent. This ensures our voices and stories, our blood-memories, testimonies and visions are purely from us. Of our own creation. From our own experiences; encapsulating our past, present, future aspirations and dreams, and representing who and what we truly are as a people without the misguided visions of others that are thrust upon us.
The media constantly bombards us with negative images of people of African descent, more specifically, women. Our positive accomplishments, uplifting experiences, and gifts to humanity get little attention.
While WADFF is not officially a part of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, one cannot separate it either. Both exist because of a deep hurt, a need, for a space to exist where inclusivity, recognition, and the basic principle of respect are a natural part of the human psyche. Because many spaces do not exist for Black filmmakers, actors, writers, producers and directors (need I remind you of the recent Twitter trend #OscarsSoWhite?), it is essential for the survival of Black Cinematic Art.
That’s not to say that, like most well meaning groups, #BlackLivesMatter is not without fault; nor is it necessarily a group exclusively fighting for equality in the arts. However, for the moment, it, as well as WADFF, is the best hope we have for much needed change in a world that denies our existence in visual mass media.
The Call for Entries for the 15th Annual Women of African Descent Film Festival is now open. Deadline is March 18th. Please visit blackchickmedia.com for submission guidelines and click here to check out last year’s festival program.
Keya Crenshaw, Coordinator for The Women of African Descent Film Festival, is the Founder of Black Chick Media, LLC, an online consulting and arts marketing organization formed to create and promote events such as film festivals, audition days, workshops, networking, writing groups, seminars, and other events centered on the arts. We also promote the creation of resources for all industry professionals including actors, writers, directors, designers, dancers, musicians, artists, and producers through networking and organizing events to offer support, build communities, and to create endless opportunities. We believe that when sharing knowledge and talents, wonderful relationships can flourish. Black Chick Media offers consultation and advertising services for Film and Theater PR, Film Festivals, Writing and Script Development, Talent Searches/Head-Hunting, and other Media related events. Currently, we find ourselves working with both national and international professional artists organizations promoting recognition and empowerment of people in the arts. © Keya Crenshaw 2016
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