The red carpet was rolled out, champagne glasses were filled to the rim, and celebrity smiles gleamed as bright as the stars in the night sky as the American Black Film Festival (ABFF) shut down Miami’s South Beach for its 20th anniversary celebration. The festival, created by founder Jeff Friday, for the past 20 years has created a platform dedicated to showcasing entertainment content for and about people of African descent– it is where Black Hollywood comes to show off their talents.
The ABFF never fails to bring out the stars, big names such as award-winning actor and artist, Common, actress, Gabrielle Union, and the now slim and trim actor, Anthony Anderson, to name a few. But, beyond all the glitz and the glam, there is an untold story of hardship and struggle for each and every success; a story that needs to be told to the dreamers and non-believers that may feel discouraged and not so hopeful. The ABFF, by creating such a platform showcasing industry insiders of color, shines a light for those that may feel like the light may not be so bright at the end of the tunnel. Black Hollywood came out to shine, but to also tell its truth…
Uber talented actor, writer, producer, and director Nate Parker of the highly anticipated film, “The Birth of A Nation,” was not without his adversities in producing the epic film that was acquired by Fox Searchlight in a record-breaking $17.5 million deal, the most ever paid for a Sundance film. Critics and even relatives and close friends, were leery of his decision to produce the emotionally driven and unflinching true story of a pastor, Nat Turner, who tires of white supremacists abusing scriptures of the Bible as a means to render their slaves submissive and leads a radical rebellion to free slaves from white oppression. Some believed there were already too many slave movies, it would be too stereotypical, or too much like something we have already seen. Ironically, Parker, his name so similar to the fearless character, Nat Turner, felt that Blacks have not had the opportunity to really explore our narrative and the complexities of slavery in its entirety, it is not only about those that laid down, but also about those that stood up. Parker believed in his dream of making this film so much, that he produced the film out of his own pocket, in a grueling 27 days. Parker, scripted, directed, invested, and starred in his own movie, proving you can create your own success.
During this year’s festival, Bishop T.D. Jakes discussed faith, film and TV, crediting God’s favor, a diligent work ethic and the establishment of healthy relationships as foundations of his success. As a preacher or Christian, Jakes shared, many will inadvertently put you in a box. Christians can sometimes be seen as an enigma especially when it comes to business ventures outside of the church. Christians can be successful and prosperous too, noted the Dallas, Texas pastor in his conversation. “Christians or people of faith are not seen as real people; some believe they don’t have real problems or are believed to not be as relatable,” he shared. As a pastor, Jakes had to prove himself by being a man of integrity and establishing relationships built on trust and respect. “Without integrity and relationships built on trust, there is no success,” said Jakes. With 40 published books, 2 Grammy’s, and 9 movie credits, the mega-influential pastor cultivated his destiny.
“Ride Along 2,” “No Good Deed,” and “Think Like A Man” mega-producer Will Packer was not always in the winning circle, as he told his story at the ABFF Awards Ceremony of losing, after exhausting all his money chasing a dream of one day becoming a film director. Will Packer attended the American Black Film Festival when the “A” stood for Acapulco, and the ABFF would remain in Acapulco from 1997-2001. His story was a compelling and inspiring one. It wasn’t so easy for him to gas up the ride and drive up to Miami, it was financially challenging to attend the ABFF as a starving artist when it was held in Acapulco, Mexico. And to come all that way only to lose in a film competition, was not the end result that he had hoped for. He jokingly added with a smirk, “I’m here, and well, that first place guy… never give up on your dreams ever!” Here’s three words for you…Will Packer Productions.
Looking back to its humble beginnings, the American Black Film Festival was not always the successful platform that is today. Founder, Jeff Friday, had an idea, one that would change the unfair treatment of blacks within Hollywood. In an interview, Friday stated, “All minorities are shut down from the private party we call ‘Hollywood’. We are let in one at a time, and the masses don’t get the information or don’t have access to the decision making. What we have planned is more of the same, which is more information, more network opportunities, and to further our mission to provide minorities and people of color with a fair shot at breaking into the Hollywood system.” However, this was an expensive idea, a half million dollar idea to be exact. Friday did not focus on the dollar amount, but talked to his good friend and co-founder, Byron E. Lewis, and within a week $500 thousand dollars was in his hand and The American Black Film Festival was born.
There was a message to be received behind all the flashing lights and cameras.
Success does not just show up at your door, sometimes it’s hidden behind many failures or it throws you a curve ball right when you think you’re so close to it.
Friday, Packer, Parker and Jakes proved to themselves and to the world, that no dream is ever too big to be achieved. The ABFF is a time and a place to believe in your ideas and to realize that dreams don’t have to be a vision inside your head. The American Black Film Festival is where dreams are no longer a dream, but are birthed into reality.