Urbanworld Returns! One of the World's Largest and Most Diverse Film Festivals Launches Its 22nd Year

Queen Sugar Cast Panel Discussion with (L-to-R) Kofi Siriboe and Dawn-Lyen Gardner at the 21st Annual Film festival on September 23, 2017 in New York City.
Queen Sugar Cast Panel Discussion with (L-to-R) Kofi Siriboe and Dawn-Lyen Gardner at the 21st Annual Film festival on September 23, 2017 in New York City.
Photo: Mychal Watts (WireImage)

Films helmed by and starring talent of color still remain, unfortunately, far and few between, but now in its 22nd year, the Urbanworld Film Festival continues to champion the work of predominantly black talents and filmmakers across the country and diaspora. As stated on its website:

[Urbanworld] is one of the largest internationally competitive festivals of its kind. Each year, we curate a slate of films representing the broadest lens of diversity across stories, characters, themes, and cultures. We fight tirelessly to expand the definition of “urban” beyond ethnicity to include sensibility, culture, and proximity.


Featuring 77 films this year—including the highly anticipated Widows, Night School, Smallfoot and The Hate U Give, Urbanworld, in conjunction with founding partner HBO, continues to bring diverse stories to an equally diverse audience over a five-day festival, taking place this year in New York City between Sept. 19-23.

Speaking on the genesis of Urbanworld, founder Stacy Spikes, former vice president of marketing at Miramax, told Black Enterprise in 2010:

[P]eople were sending me films that weren’t in other festivals, and I thought these films needed to be seen. They weren’t showing anyplace else, and I thought we should have our own festival. ... We create an opportunity for exposure. We hold up the best of black films and that showcase gives them an opportunity to go on elsewhere to do great things. That is our purpose.

But Spikes was also realistic about distribution, which remains difficult for most films, but even more so for black films. He credited TV and cable outlets with greater exposure of diverse stories, but also warned that we shouldn’t be reliant on traditional routes for funding and promotion, because our communities have always been our greatest support systems:

We can rely on our community, because we go to the movies more than anybody else. You don’t need a distribution system. If you think like that it will help you to get where you’re trying to go. The industry needs us. We’re going to need a rebirth of the early ’90s and late ’80s that you saw in black films with House Party and all of those films. That is what we want to bring back; that resilience.[Back then] we just made films, we just got them made [raising money] from investors, family, bake sales. There are so many ways filmmakers hobble money together to get it done. All of those avenues they’ve got to pursue.

Supporting this narrative, homegrown to big screen talents Ava DuVernay, Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, Adepero Oduye, Amandla Stenberg, Kenya Barris and many more will be in attendance this year, as Urbanworld continues to make its impact on the film industry. This year will also celebrate the 30th(!) anniversary of Coming to America with a special screening on Friday, Sept. 21. Tickets are still available; just visit urbanworld.com to purchase passes.

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?