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WNBA, fatherhood and world premieres lead the 28th American Black Film Festival

Power of a Dream is a new documentary exploring the story behing WNBA players taking on a team owner during the political and racial unrest of 2020 | Directed by Dawn Porter. Produced by Dawn Porter, Sue Bird, Nneka Ogwumike, and Tracee Ellis Ross
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Power of a Dream is a new documentary exploring the story behing WNBA players taking on a team owner during the political and racial unrest of 2020 | Directed by Dawn Porter. Produced by Dawn Porter, Sue Bird, Nneka Ogwumike, and Tracee Ellis Ross

The nation's largest festival showcasing films by people of African descent returns this week for its 28th year with some of the country's hottest talents congregating here in South Florida. Among them: actor Denzel Washington, filmmaker Ava DuVernay and actress and writer Issa Rae.

The American Black Film Festival, taking place at various venues on Miami Beach, is the preeminent space for multi-hyphenate storytellers, bringing visibility to relevant and lesser-known Black stories — from narrative and documentary and television premieres to panel discussions and talent discovery programs.

It spotlights acclaimed and emerging filmmakers from the U.S., Nigeria, France, and Canada, “bringing a wide-range of empowering stories to our community,” said Nice Crowd president Nicole Friday in a statement.

Independent filmmakers say the in-person and virtual festival gives audiences a chance to be among the first to see relevant, mixed-genre premiers before their debut on streaming channels, including the Amazon MGM Studios premiere of Power of a Dream, a documentary by director-producer Dawn Porter, produced by Sue Bird, Nneka Ogwumike, and Tracee Ellis Ross.

READ MORE: Why Delray Beach museum is honoring Black fatherhood during Juneteenth celebrations

Amid the growing popularity of the Women's National Basketball Association, the new documentary explores the story behind WNBA players taking on a team owner during the political and racial unrest of 2020 following George Floyd's murder, and rallying behind then Senate candidate Raphael Warnock, who went on to win a seat in the U.S. Senate.

"There are so many critical issues in communities of color right now that need attention," Porter told WLRN. "And I think what this film shows is some people, who may have not felt so powerful, when they banded together they did an extraordinary thing."

The Power of a Dream screening event, which includes The Waterboyz by director Coke Daniels and producer civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, is part of ABBF’s annual, free Community Day event in Historic Overtown at the Black Archives Lyric Theater.

The WNBA documentary is followed by a panel with the director Dawn Porter and Jemele Hill, a sports journalist.

ABFF often advocates for more Black storytelling opportunities in the international film industry.

Black-led projects, across the film and TV ecosystem, face racial equity issues in financing, marketing, content development and distribution, according to a comprehensive industry study from management firm McKinsey & Company.

Despite “advances for people of color in Hollywood” there is still a “big disparity of how much money and what type of money gets invested in content that speaks to our culture, " said Jeff Friday, founder of ABFF.

The film industry is leaving billions of dollars on the table — $10 billion in annual revenues, according to a McKinsey & Company study, if it doesn’t address racial inequities.

ODB & son Bar-Sun (Young Dirty Bastard) circa 1995 (Jimmy Wentz)
Only the Best :-))
Ol’ Dirty Bastard: A Tale of Two Dirtys, co-directed by Jason Pollard and Sam Pollard, about a Grammy-nominated member of the iconic hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan. | ODB & son Bar-Sun (Young Dirty Bastard) circa 1995 (Jimmy Wentz)

Line-ups in this year’s narrative and documentary categories include: Albany Road directed and written by Christine Swanson starring Renée Elise Goldsberry, Lynn Whitfield, J. Alphonse Nicholson.

One feature documentary, among many, include Ol’ Dirty Bastard: A Tale of Two Dirtys, co-directed by Jason Pollard and Sam Pollard, about a Grammy-nominated member of the iconic hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan.

And to add to ABFF’s widely popular HBO Short Film showcase, the festival spearheaded the national “Black & Unlimited Fatherhood Project,” film competition with $10,000 cash award for directors who spotlight “a wide range of stories about Black men as fathers,” organizers said.

Three winners were selected to attend and screen their world premieres at this year’s festival and through the ABFF PLAY, the festival's film platform.

Films include It Takes A Village, by director Joshua Kissi, stars actors such as Michael Ealy (Think Like A Man), Jackson Abram and Nadine Ellis. The coming-of-age film follows a 1960s character named Lawrence Cooke, who takes his son, Isaiah, through a manhood’s rights of passage.

"I think it's important to spotlight Black fatherhood in cinema because we need more reference points," Kissi told WLRN. "How do I add onto the narrative arc of what fatherhood means in a black community?"

After These Messages, by director Khalid Abdulqaadi, takes audiences through the struggles and unique circumstances of a single father. And Black Santa, by director Black Travis Wood, sees a father dealing with a son who's outgrown parts of their relationship.

A day before the festival's community day, filmgoers will experience a career retrospective with Denzel Washington, moderated by film executive Chaz Ebert.

IF YOU GO:
American Black Film Festival
WHEN: Through June 16
WHERE: Various venues on Miami Beach.
For more information, visit the ABFF website.

Wilkine Brutus is the Palm Beach County Reporter for WLRN. The award-winning journalist produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs. Contact Wilkine at wbrutus@wlrnnews.org
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