The 2022 Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival kicked off in a big way on Friday, as Barack and Michelle Obama made an appearance to introduce the new Netflix documentary, Descendant.
As we previously reported at The Root, the streamer acquired the doc after its success at the Sundance Film Festival, with the Obamas’ Higher Ground signing on to present it.
According to Variety, the former president and first lady got a thunderous ovation from the audience before introducing the film. Michelle took time to thank Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, the film’s executive producer, as well as the festival’s founders Floyd and Stephanie Rance.
“When we left the White House, Michelle and I talked about the things we wanted to do post-presidency. We’ve got a lot of stuff going on, but one of the things that we learned both when we were campaigning for office and taking office was the importance of stories and who tells stories and what stories are valid and what stories are discounted,” Barack said. “And it’s one of the powers of this festival, and the work that the Rances have done is to lift up stories that too often have been lost in the flow of time. Because we believe that everybody’s stories matter. Everybody’s got a sacred story that motivates us, moves us. It’s not just a matter of nostalgia, it powers us into the present and the future.”
Per its official synopsis: “Descendant follows members of Africatown, a small community in Alabama, as they share their personal stories and community history as descendants of the Clotilda, the last known slave ship to illegally transport human beings as cargo from Africa to America.”
Michelle also discussed how important it is to pass on the stories of our elders, even though some of these discussions may be uncomfortable.
“When we screened this…we looked at it and immediately thought, ‘This is why we’re doing Higher Ground.’ Because what we know about our history as Black people, we don’t talk about nothing. We can’t get anything out of our elders, can we? We don’t know anything,” Michelle said. “Our mothers don’t talk about menopause, nobody knows about why grandma and grandpa got divorced. We just don’t talk. And there’s a lot of psychology around that, but what this film reminds us of is the power that our stories have. And we have to tell that truth.”
With Republicans actively trying to pretend like our history didn’t happen, it’s more important than ever to get these stories out there; and having the power and influence of Barack, Michelle and Netflix behind it will only increase Descendant’s reach and impact.
“We have to tell our stories to our younger folks. We have to be the ones, we cannot follow that tradition of keeping our pain silent, because what this film shows us is our stories are the power that makes us seen,” Michelle continued. “And I also thought, this could be the beginning of a storytelling process, because guess what we have? We have phones, everybody’s using them. And we need to encourage our young people to reach out to the elders that are existing. And instead of taking photos of your food, or in addition to taking photos of your food and the latest TikTok whatever it is, how about talking to grandma and great-grandma and asking them some of those questions.”
As usual, our Forever First Lady is right, and this is the time we need to get those stories out in the world and fully document our history and culture.