If Beyoncé can bring Wakanda to Coachella, we’re going to do the same for Tribeca, the annual film festival that reps the grit and greatness of New York City. As with last year, we here at The Root are here to give it to you, racks on racks of that beautiful black (except, perhaps, No. 5). This is by no means to say that black folks don’t enjoy films or screen things with no melanation, but you can get that lineup anywhere.
Herewith, our carefully curated picks for the 10 blackest Tribeca experiences:
1. Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland, feature documentary, directed by Kate Davis and David Heilbroner (USA); world premiere.
Besides the fact that what occurred happens far too often, the story of Sandra Bland was most sobering because she could have been any one of us. What happened to her exposed all the vulnerabilities that we as black women also face at the hands of law enforcement in America.
In 2015, after being arrested for having the audacity to question a flimsy traffic stop, the 28-year-old died in police custody of an apparent suicide. No matter how she died, what is clear is that she would be alive were it not for that fateful contact with the law. Filmmakers Kate Davis and David Heilbroner shadow Bland’s family in the two years following her death and weave in Bland’s own voice in the film through her online video series, Sandy Speaks.
2. The Gospel According to Andre, feature documentary, directed by Kate Novack (USA); New York premiere.
The regal, indomitable, fashionable and leeeeeegendary André Leon Talley has established himself as an icon in the lily-white, self-important world of fashion, despite being big, black and bodacious. Known to many as just ALT, Talley’s 40-year career began at Vogue and took him the world over, from front-row seats to iconic fashion editorials.
Director Kate Novack takes the viewer back through Talley’s childhood in Jim Crow-era North Carolina and examines the influence of his beloved grandmother, Bennie, who nurtured an abiding love of fashion. The film is as much about Talley’s incredible life as the women who helped him build it.
After the premier screening: A conversation with director Kate Novack and subject André Leon Talley, producer Andrew Rossi, executive producer Roger Ross Williams and producer Josh Braun. Moderated by performer Sandra Bernhard.
3. United Skates, feature documentary, directed by Dyana Winkler and Tina Brown (USA); world premiere.
If you’ve never been to a roller skating rink in a black community, you haven’t fully lived. You haven’t been privy to the music and movement that blends into a true intracultural phenomenon. You haven’t borne witness to those who defy gravity, spinning and moving their bodies in impossible ways. On beat.
Although they are slowly but surely closing, African-American roller rinks have thrived for decades in cities across the country, hosting performances by groundbreaking hip-hop artists like N.W.A and Queen Latifah, and birthing a mix of skating and dance that stands as its own unique art form.
4. Little Woods, feature film, directed by Nia DaCosta (USA); world premiere.
Little Woods “speaks to both the big and the small of the working-class struggle in rural America.” The project becomes especially compelling, given that Ollie (Tessa Thompson) is starring and that the film is helmed by a black woman, Nia DaCosta, who wrote and directed the emotionally charged thriller set in a fracking boomtown in North Dakota.
Ollie used to run prescription pills over the Canadian border and now wants to leave small-town America behind, but her mother dies and she finds herself back in the life of her estranged sister Deb (Lily James), who is facing her own crisis with an unplanned pregnancy and a deadbeat ex (James Badge Dale).
5. The Rachel Divide, feature documentary, directed by Laura Brownson (USA); world premiere.
If you are inclined to know more about the train wreck of a life of Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who “passed” as a black woman, look no further. Filmed exclusively with Dolezal, her sons and her adoptive sister Esther, documentarian Laura Brownson delves into the motivation and actions of the woman many in the black community see as not only delusional but offensive. The Rachel Divide seeks to answer the essential question that surrounds “Miss Rachel who do hair”: Is she truly “trans-black,” as she describes herself, or the ultimate example of white privilege?
6. Charm City, feature documentary, directed by Marilyn Ness (USA); world premiere.
Baltimore, B-More or “Ballamore,” in local parlance, is one of those iconic American cities that have produced some of our greatest sons and daughters, including Thurgood Marshall, Harriette Cole and, yes, a little TV show called The Wire. But there has always been an underbelly to Charm City, one filled with poverty, drug addiction and violence (both within the community and from police).
Over a three-year span, director Marilyn Ness peers into some of the toughest neighborhoods in Baltimore and shows that help is always there for those who need it.
7. Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes, feature documentary, directed by Sophie Huber (USA); world premiere*.
Blue Note Records has been home to such groundbreaking artists as Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Bud Powell, Art Blakey and Eric Dolphy, as well as present-day luminaries like Ambrose Akinmusire and Norah Jones.
Director Sophie Huber lays out the history of Blue Note, from its founding to its latter-day renaissance, through a treasure trove of gorgeous photographs shot by founder Francis Wolff, archival performances, interviews with the label’s alums and excerpts from a contemporary all-stars session featuring Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Robert Glasper.
8. Dead Women Walking,* feature narrative; directed by Hagar Ben-Asher; world premiere.
Dead Women Walking traces the final days of a series of women on death row. Told as a series of nine fictional vignettes, these narratives expose the human toll of the death penalty—not only on the women convicted of violent crimes, but also on their families, prison officials, and the ministers and counselors coaching them through their final days.
There’s Wendy, for example, whose mother declines to visit her the day before her execution; Helen, who meets her 18-year-old son (Moonlight’s Ashton Sanders) for the first time since he was adopted shortly after her imprisonment; and Celine, who watches a documentary about her case and conviction while having her last meal.
9. Nigerian Prince, feature narrative, directed by Faraday Okoro (Nigeria); worldwide premiere.
Nollywood comes to Tribeca! Nigerian Prince, the electric feature from writer-director Faraday Okoro, who won AT&T’s Untold Stories competition on the eve of Tribeca in 2017, finished his debut in under 12 months—just in time for Tribeca 2018.
Shot entirely in Lagos, Nigeria, the film follows troubled American teenager Eze, who is sent away to his mother’s native home against his will and quickly finds himself entangled in a dangerous web of scams and corruption, egged on by his con artist cousin Pius. Nigerian Prince offers a snapshot of a world not often seen on film, introducing the reality behind scams from the Motherland.
10. Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story*; TV; directed by Julia Willoughby Nason and Jenner Furst (USA); world premiere.
Rest in Power promises a definitive look at one of the most-talked-about and heartbreaking events of the last decade. It recounts the life and legacy of the titular 17-year-old, who was shot and killed in Florida in 2012, and whose tragic and untimely death gave rise to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The series is based on the book of the same title by Trayvon’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, and executive-produced by Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter.
After the screening: A conversation with co-directors Julia Willoughby Nason and Jenner Furst; the parents of Trayvon Martin: Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin; executive producers Mike Gasparro and Chachi Senior; and special guest. Moderated by MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid.
Tribeca Virtual Reality Experiences
Following up on the phenomenal experience of NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism last year, Tribeca continues to come through with virtual reality experiences that tell black stories. These three have to be on your radar. VR passes can be bought for three-hour blocks of time during the festival.
- 1000 Cut Journey is an immersive virtual reality experience, where the viewer becomes Michael Sterling, a black man, encountering racism as a young child, adolescent and young adult.
- Dinner Party tells the incredible story of Betty and Barney Hill, an interracial couple who made the first report of a UFO abduction in America in 1961.
- My Africa is set in northern Kenya and is a mixed-reality companion experience that puts participants in the shoes of a Reteti Elephant Sanctuary keeper caring for the newest arrival, a baby elephant named Dudu. Narrated by Lupita Nyong’o.
Frankly, there are at least a dozen more black things happening at Tribeca this year, including several “Tribeca Talks” events with luminaries like Spike Lee and Jamie Foxx, as well as other goodies like the following shorts, narratives and documentaries:
Passes and single tickets for the Tribeca Film Festival are on sale and can be purchased online; via telephone at 646-502-5296 or 866-941-FEST (3378); or at ticket outlets located at Cinepolis Chelsea (260 W. 23 St.) in Manhattan.
Tickets to special events at Radio City Music Hall and the Beacon Theatre are available at Ticketmaster. Ticket discounts on general screenings and “Tribeca Talks” panels for students, seniors and select downtown-Manhattan residents are available at ticket-outlet locations only.
* A “rush” system functions as a standby line that will form at the venue approximately 45 minutes prior to scheduled start time. Admittance is based on availability and will begin 15 minutes prior to start. There is a limit of one rush ticket per person.