American Black Film Festival: Our Stories, Told Our Way

Top: Datari Turner and Sessilee Lopez from the film Supermodel. Bottom: Columbus Short in The Girl Is in Trouble; Empire’s Taraji P. Henson, who is the celebrity ambassador for the American Black Film Festival and will be giving a talk at the event.
Sergei Franklin for Datari Turner Productions; Entertainment One; Fox

The American Black Film Festival is once again taking place in New York City, from Thursday through Sunday. The annual event, which began as the Acapulco Black Film Festival in 1997 before moving to Miami Beach in 2002 and then Los Angeles in 2007, came to the Big Apple last year and took the city by storm.

The annual festival, dedicated to highlighting stories by and about people of African descent, offers a slate of feature films, documentaries and shorts. However, it’s the panels, discussions and networking events that make it a must for those in the industry and for anyone aspiring to make it in Hollywood.


The Root combed through the ABFF schedule and highlighted some of the standout events, including the highly anticipated premiere of filmmaker Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope and the hot-ticket talk with Empire’s Cookie, Taraji P. Henson.

Dope Opening Night

Dope will open the festival Thursday ahead of its June 19 nationwide release. Writer and director Rick Famuyiwa—along with cast members Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Chanel Iman, Blake Anderson and Quincy Brown—is scheduled to be at ABFF for a Q&A with the audience. In keeping with the old-school, hip-hop theme of the film, the festival's opening-night party Thursday will feature a performance by Doug E. Fresh. Dope will screen again at ABFF Sunday.

Get a Taste of Cookie


ABFF’s celebrity ambassador for 2015 is Taraji P. Henson, who will take part in a conversation moderated by Gayle King on Friday. No doubt the actress will talk about playing Cookie on the hit TV show Empire and being black in Hollywood. Let’s hope King asks Henson about wanting Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams to play her parents on Empire. If you need more of an Empire fix, there is Empire Talks Back: Inside the Writers Room, a discussion with some of the show’s creators Sunday.

Make Money With a Web Series


One of the many workshops taking place at ABFF is How to Create and Monetize a Successful Web Series on Saturday. For anyone who has a smartphone and an idea, the Internet is wide open for you to post and profit. Learn from major success stories such as Issa Rae (The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl), Black&Sexy TV co-founders Numa Perrier and Dennis Dortch and Black Actress’ Andrea Lewis.

Heart-Wrenching Father-Son Documentary


If you did not get to see In My Father's House when it premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, now is your chance. The Root was blown away by the documentary about an alcoholic father who abandons his family, and the son who tracks him down and tries to help him years later. That son is Grammy-winning rapper Che “Rhymefest” Smith, who co-wrote Kanye West’s hit song “Jesus Walks” and the Oscar-winning song “Glory” featured in Selma. A Q&A follows the screening Friday.

Columbus Short Comeback


The Girl Is in Trouble is Julius Onah’s debut feature film, which was executive-produced by Spike Lee. The movie is about a bartender-DJ, played by Columbus Short, who becomes entangled in a murder mystery involving a desperate woman, a missing drug dealer and the scion of a powerful investment firm. Onah is on a roll and has been tapped to direct two studio films since completing The Girl Is in Trouble, which screens at ABFF Sunday.

Supermodel Flips the Runway Script


We've seen the story many times with white characters; now see it the way filmmaker Datari Turner says it needs to be told. Supermodel is the story of a Brooklyn, N.Y., girl who goes from the subway to the runway in spectacular fashion and with all the drama that comes with it. Turner co-wrote and produced the film, which is loosely based on his experiences in the modeling industry. It stars Turner, Sessilee Lopez and Tyson Beckford. A Q&A follows the screening Sunday.

Free, for Those Short on Funds

If you are looking to take part in the festival but may not have the cash, there is a free two-day event. Festival organizers say the ABFF Television & Media Expo will provide an open forum for network, cable and Internet broadcasters to engage consumers and promote their popular shows and diversity-recruitment initiatives. Although it is free to the public, registration is required.

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