Urbanworld 2020’s Virtual Festival Packs Cinematic Treats—and Some Scares—in Must-Watch Lineup

David Oyelowo and Rosario Dawson star in Oyelowo’s directorial debut, The Water Man
David Oyelowo and Rosario Dawson star in Oyelowo’s directorial debut, The Water Man
Image: Karen Ballard

Urbanworld Film Festival will be virtual this year—much like everything else—but it won’t lack for sizzle or star power. The film festival announced its much-anticipated 2020 lineup on Thursday, starting with African British actor David Oyelowo’s feature directorial debut, The Water Man.


The fantasy-adventure film will open the festival, now in its 24th year, on Wednesday, September 23. The movie chronicles the journey of a boy on a quest to save his sick mother by seeking out a mythical figure believed to have magical healing powers. The virtual screening will be followed by a panel conversation moderated by Ava DuVernay, featuring Oyelowo and the film’s stars, Rosario Dawson, Lonnie Chavis and Amiah Miller. Singer Alice Smith will also deliver a musical performance.

Compelling conversations run throughout the rest of the festival, which will run through Sunday, September 27. On Thursday, Sept. 24, Hulu’s Bad Hair, a horror satire about a young Black woman who unknowingly acquires a weave with a mind of its own, will screen. Afterward, the film’s writer/director Justin Simien will sit alongside Lena Waithe, Ella Lorraine and Kelly Rowland to discuss the movie.

Festival attendees can also expect to get a sneak peek at Candyman, the remake of the iconic horror film starring everyone’s imaginary fiancé, Yahyah Abdul-Mateen. Director/co-writer Nia DaCosta and actors Teyonah Parris and Vanessa Williams will chat about the 1992 cult classic, and what audiences can expect from the new version, which is slated to hit theaters next year.

“In an unimaginable year of change, we remain inspired by the creativity, culture and community that prevail in this brave new virtual world,” said Gabrielle Glore, Festival Director and Head of Programming for Urbanworld Film Festival. “Powerful storytelling is now more important than ever and Urbanworld is proud to be a consistent platform that brings Black, Indigenous and people of color storytellers and audiences together from across the globe.”

Provocative dramas dominate as the festival continues on Saturday afternoon. Peacock’s upcoming Noughts and Crosses series, based off a series of popular British young adult novels, will be spotlighted. The show imagines an alternate universe in which Africa colonized Europe, and journalist Isha Sesay will moderate a discussion about the controversial series with stars Masali Baduza and Paterson Joseph.


AMC will also highlight its marquee fall television series: Gangs of London, Soulmates, and The Walking Dead: World Beyond. The Root’s Editor-in-chief Danielle Belton will moderate a conversation starring the series’ cast and filmmakers, including Paapa Essiedu (Gangs of London, I May Destroy You), Kingsley Ben-Adir (Soulmates, High Fidelity) and Aliyah Royale (The Walking Dead: World Beyond, Major Crimes).

Saturday night brings a screening of HBO Max’s Charm City Kings, a coming-of-age story around Baltimore’s renowned dirt bike community. Multi-hyphenate talent Radha Blank will also discuss her Netflix film, The Forty-Year-Old Version, in which the NYC-based playwright reinvents herself as a rapper, with writer/director Robert Townsend.


The festival will welcome two familiar faces back on Sunday, its final day. Filmmaker David E. Talbert, who won Best Dramatic Feature for A Woman Like That at Urbanworld in 1997, will discuss his upcoming film, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey with entertainment journalist Tre’vell Anderson.

Oyelowo also returns on Sunday afternoon with Come Away, a feature that imagines a world before Peter became Peter Pan, and before Alice tumbled into Wonderland. The film stars Oyelowo and Angelina Jolie. Alice actress Kiera Chansa will join Oyelowo in a conversation after the screening.


The Root is a media partner for Urbanworld Film Festival 2020. Visit urbanworld.org for more details.

Staff writer, The Root.