Thursday, July 20, 2017

Keep On Pushing

I have many talents, but being on camera is not one of them.

That's a cold, hard fact I first learned back in college when a friend tapped me to star in his film project to wooden results.

Oh, sure, I can talk to a brick wall or any complete stranger, but a camera? Not my forte.

Before being asked to try again, Mac and I had dinner at Garnett's where we admired the recently refurbished floors, talked about her Uncle Bootsy and ate our favorite salads like we do. Both of us briefly (and foolishly) considered ordering something different than our usual, but why mess with complete satisfaction?

And speaking of that, nothing could have pleased the two of us more than seeing that chocolate chocolate cake was in the house tonight, its frosting as soft as my cotton dress trying to stand up to another dog day of Summer (my apartment was a toasty 94 degrees when I left).

Luckily, the air conditioning at the Hoff Garden was set on full blast when we arrived for Sneakpeek: 2nd Annual Afrikana Film Festival's launch. The system struggled a bit once the room filled up with other devoted movie fans for an evening of short films by directors of color and the sunset beamed its warmth through the big window, but eventually recovered.

The trio of films came across like a trilogy of up-to-the-moment commentary on race relations in the 21st century.

First was Johnny Ray Gill's difficult "Strange Fruit hanging," an emotionally charged music video shaped as a tribute to victims of police brutality. It was painful to watch because the reality for blacks in this country is painful.

The next film was black and white, produced by Ava Duvernay and titled after Common's album "Black America Again." It featured the musician rapping the title track - a protest song of the highest order - to a percussionist in between emotionally charged scenes of women in white singing and dancing on urban streets.

His message was plain: "We write our own story."

The final film, "Hell You Talmbout," had a fascinating story behind it, in part because one of the filmmakers, Denzel Boyd, was from Richmond and in the audience tonight.

It began with children in a schoolroom and roll being called, the names being those of blacks killed by cops and went on to feature a group of kids in white t-shirts with a large "X" on each dancing behind a master tap dancer (in the same shirt) performing to Janelle Monae's Trump-era protest song, "Hell You Talmbout."

During the Q & A afterward, recent VCU graduate Boyd explained how the project had come about with a grant of $8,000 and two partners (one a filmmaker, the other a tap dancer). Since his degree was in graphic design, he was tasked with the visual elements of the film, which they completed in a single day.

I have to say, for one so young who'd been part of his very first film endeavor, he handled the non-stop barrage of questions and comments from the crowd admirably, admitting that they'd seen video of a Seattle tap group dancing to the song and taken their inspiration from that.

And while he hadn't felt any particular calling to address social injustice issues before making the film, he was feeling differently as a result of it. He also admitted (to appreciative laughter) that he was hoping to hear from Janelle any day now.

Then came the announcement of the theme for this year's 3-day Afrikana Film Fest  - Black with a Capital B: Celebrations of Black Personhood and a tease about one of the festival's guests.

When Talib Kweli's name was announced, the crowd roared its approval. Can. Not. Wait.

Tonight was also our opportunity to buy early bird festival passes at a discount rate (no dummies, Mac and I both did before they sell out) and it was after we'd done so that I got tapped to take a turn in front of the camera talking about Afrikana.

When I tried to get out of it based on my skin color, the brains and beauty behind the festival was having none of it. "That's exactly why you're just the person to do it!" she told me. Clearly she had no clue how lame I present when a camera is rolling.

But I did it anyway (with Terrance Trent D'Arby playing overhead) for the cause.

I did it because I think Afrikana Film Fest represents what Richmond is trying to become in terms of race relations. I did it because I attended the very first Afrikana screening back in fall 2014 and scores of their events since.

I did it because I want cultural happenings in this town to resemble the Prince concerts I went to in the '90s: a colorful mix of black and white, old and young and everything in between.

Just don't judge me for how poorly I convey my convictions. Really, I have other skill sets.

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