The Tribeca Film Festival, the badass downtown sister to golden girl Sundance, is back on these screens April 19-28. Like the New York neighborhood it’s named for, every year TFF becomes richer; fortunately, as with Hollywood (though not the nabe so much), black images, people and stories abound. There is much at the festival that speaks to our existence—criminal justice, gentrification, joyful song, fraught identity, breaking boundaries and boundary breakers. There are documentaries, films, talks, concerts and immersive experiences that, although distinct, connect to one another in surprising ways, hooked by the thick black thread of our humanity.
If you are interested in black life and culture, I have done the work so you don’t have to. Herewith, 10 things every black person needs to see at Tribeca this year:
1. Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: The Bad Boy Story, documentary directed by Daniel Kaufman (USA); world premiere
The Uptown hustler is in the house. And Generation X gets to relive its glory days when Cristal was flowing, Diddy was bopping and thriving black businesses were in effect. CSWS runs with Sean “Diddy” Combs for three frenzied weeks as he puts on his Bad Boy reunion concerts at Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Barclays Center. Walk down memory lane with the Notorious B.I.G., Mase, Lil’ Kim, Faith, Total, Mary J. Blige and more. This doc is a hot ticket, but passes may be available the day of.*
After the premiere Thursday, April 27, Bad Boy will hold an intimate concert at the Beacon Theatre at 8 p.m. Buy tickets here.
2. Copwatch, documentary directed by Camilla Hall (USA); world premiere
But as much as we love to party, the cops still keep beating our asses and killing us. And people keep getting it on film. We Copwatch, an organization that films police activity as a form of protest, highlights those unwitting citizen journalists who capture state-sanctioned brutality on video, including Ramsey Orta, who filmed Eric Garner’s fatal arrest.
3. The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, documentary directed by David France, written by David France, Mark Blane (USA); world premiere
If you know Baldwin and Rustin, you should know Johnson. The gay-rights movement has yet another black woman, Marsha P. Johnson, to thank for doing the work and fighting the power. Featuring never-before-seen footage and rediscovered interviews, Academy Award nominee David France (How to Survive a Plague) follows a new investigation into the mysterious death of the self-described “street queen” who left this world too soon.
4. NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism, virtual reality project creators: Hyphen-Labs—Ashley Baccus-Clark, Carmen Aguilar y Wedge, Ece Tankal, Nitzan Bartov (USA); New York premiere
It’s as if Janelle Monáe, Andre 3000 and Erykah Badu opened a hair salon (in this case, a neurocosmetology lab) where black women can go to get their infinite life did. This virtual reality project centers black women, with speculative products like pink door-knocker earrings that act as cameras for police surveillance, and where, instead of braids, customers are fitted with transcranial “Octavia [Butler] electrodes” that allow access to a surreal alternate world. (Not just for black women, by the way.)
5. I LIVED: Brooklyn, N.O.W. (new online work) directed by Jonathan Nelson and produced by Danielle Andersen (USA); world premiere
Let’s take it straight to the BK, the biggest (some might say baddest) borough in New York City, where Biggie Smalls, of course, remains thorough. Speaking of B.I.G., this online series begins in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant and investigates the intricacies of place and identity through the eyes of its diverse residents—from a 15-year-old girl to a man who spent more than 15 years behind bars.
6. Saturday Church, narrative directed and written by Damon Cardasis (USA)
Come into the world of Saturday church, where LGBTQ teens in the Bronx get their Jesus party on. This narrative is told through the eyes of Ulysses, a shy 14-year-old with a rich inner life. He sneaks downtown in his auntie’s stockings and his mother’s shoes to find a sanctuary, a shelter, a haven (funny how so many gay clubs have these names). There is music, there is freedom. With Luka Kain, Margot Bingham, Regina Taylor, Marquis Rodriguez, M.J. Rodriguez, Indya Moore and Alexia Garcia.
7. The Rugby Boys of Memphis, short directed by David Darg (USA); New York premiere
I actually used to play rugby in high school. We had a crazy Italian English teacher (Mr. Poletti) who brought the fiercest of games to our sports-deficient high school; it must have been hilarity to see a bunch of nerds running around a field on Georgia Avenue in Washington, D.C. Our team was co-ed and did it for fun, whereas in this short, the young men of a Memphis, Tenn., high school do it for so much more.
8. For Ahkeem, documentary directed by Jeremy S. Levine and Landon Van Soest (USA); North American premiere
A year before Michael Brown was shot down dead in the streets of Ferguson, Mo., his peer, 17-year-old Daje Shelton, was coming into her own in neighboring North St. Louis. As is typical for American teens, Daje falls in love, gets into scraps with her peers and fights with her mom. Yet as with so many black girl teens, the stakes are so much higher and the safety net so much smaller.
9. Whitney. “Can I Be Me,” documentary directed by Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal, written by Nick Broomfield (U.K.); world premiere
There will never be another voice, another face, another cautionary tale. There will never be another Jersey girl extraordinaire, the most awarded female recording artist of all time, Miss Whitney Houston. Featuring largely never-before-seen footage, Whitney tells the story of the woman behind the soaring, angelic voice and the precipitous fall that no one could stop. A Showtime release.
10. The People’s House, virtual reality project creators: Félix Lajeunesse, Paul Raphaël (Felix & Paul Studios) (Canada); world premiere
Who doesn’t miss the Obamas? With every passing moment, Barack, Michelle, Sasha and Malia are looking like the best thing that ever happened to this schizophrenic country. Pshaw if you didn’t make it to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. while they were there. Through the transportive power of VR, you can get a personalized tour from the Obamas through the West Wing and private residences, built, as Michelle Obama noted, by slaves.
Ten was a tight number because there is so much more at Tribeca ... black-oriented and otherwise. Here are
10 more things I plan to see, in no particular order:
Skull + Bone