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American Black Film Festival announces 2021 lineup

The annual festival highlighting films by and about Black people turns 25 this year and will be held virtually and in-person in the fall.

It’s that time of the year! The American Black Film Festival has officially announced its 2021 lineup, and if the list is any indication, attendees are in for a treat this fall.

As theGrio reported earlier this year, ABFF is set to celebrate its 25th anniversary in November, setting the stage for a hybrid ceremony due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A mix of in-person gatherings in Miami, Florida and virtual events online, the festival is dedicated to “showcasing emerging artists and content made by and about people of African descent.”

While officials have been dropping hints and details since its initial announcement in March, they have officially released their film roster.

Jeff Friday, founder of the American Black Film Festival, speaks onstage in Beverly Hills during “BET Presents the American Black Film Festival Honors” in Feb. 2017 in Beverly Hills. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Check out the exciting list of films included in this year’s festival, as they describe them.

Narrative Features:

A Message from Brianna  

Synopsis: When an African American couple move into their new home, their 2-year-old daughter becomes a terrifying messenger from the other side. 

USA | 80 min 

Director: DeShon Hardy 

Writer: DeShon Hardy 

Producers: DeShon Hardy, Vernon Davis  

Cast: Vernon Davis, Asia’h Epperson, Kevin Benton, Liana Kristina Mayer-ReinachAdaisha Strong, Stan J. Adams, Brittany Beckett, Amanda Felix, Leigh Bodden, Mohamed Sanu, Brittany Geertgens, Rita Bacot, Ethan Henderson, Robert Epstein, Tracy Oliver 

B-Boy Blues (World Premiere)

Synopsis: Class and culture clash when a college-educated journalist from Brooklyn and a homeboy bike messenger from Harlem fall in love. 

USA | 106 min 

Director: Jussie Smollett 

Writers: James Earl Hardy, Jussie Smollett 

Producers: Jussie Smollett, Madia Hill Scott 

Cast: Timothy Richardson, Thomas Mackie, Landon G. Woodson, Brandee Evans, Michael Jackson Jr., Jabari Redd, Heather B., Brian Lucas, Jahleel Kamara,  Broderick Hunter, Derrick Downey, Marquise Vilson, Otis Winston, Bry’Nt, Eric R. Williams, Tieisha Thomas, Shawn Sutton, Andre Virgo, Anthony Virgo, Mariama Diallo, Ilara Phoenix Williams, Sampson McCormic, Ledisi 

Doctor Gama (U.S. Premiere)

Synopsis: The history of Luiz Gama, the most important abolitionist leader in Brazil. 

Brazil | 92 min                                                                                                              

Director: Jeferson De                                                                                                       

Writer: Luiz Antonio                                                                                                    

Producers: Egisto Betti, Heitor Dhalia, Manoel Rangel, Pedro Betti, Cris Arenas, Cacá Digues                                                

Cast: César Mello, Zezé Motta, Mariana Nunes, Angelo Fernandes                                         

I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking)

I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking)  

Synopsis: When a recently widowed mother becomes houseless, she convinces her 8-year-old daughter that they are only camping for fun while working to get them off the streets.   

USA | 90 min 

Directors: Kelley Kali, Angelique Molina 

Writers: Kelley Kali, Angelique Molina, Roma Kong 

Producers: Roma Kong, Angelique Molina, Kelley Kali, Capella Fahoome, Deon Cole 

Cast: Kelley Kali, Wesley Moss, Deon Cole  

Liam White (Festival Premiere)

Synopsis: A novelist who is told he has a few months to live is forced to come to grips with his life thus far and reflect on the people who shaped him, for better and worse. 

USA | 87 min 

Director: Harold Jackson III 

Writer: Harold Jackson III 

Producers: Wendy Anderson, Tawanna Terrell, Harold Jackson, Kiyoka Rhodes 

Cast: Shaun Woodland, Jasmine Guy, Terrence “TC” Carson, Brave Williams 

Margarine (World Premiere)

Synopsis: A short-tempered, trigger-happy gun fiend terrorizes his community until he meets a charming girl named Margarine, who drives him to question his ways. 

South Africa | 115 min 

Director: Thabo Khambule 

Writer: Thabo Khambule 

Producers: Carmel Khambule, Bheki Ncube, and Thabo Khambule 

Cast: Finito Bullet, Mammy Manique, Linda Sobezo, Motsoaledi Setumo, Themba Mkhoma, Sibonakaliso Nqabadi, Thapelo Mooki, Precious Nxumalo, Banele Sibisi, Thembeni Joni, Kamvaletho Tshabala, Kabelo Molefe, Sibusiso Makqate 

No Running

No Running 

Synopsis: A Black high school student finds himself under suspicion following his classmate’s mysterious disappearance. 

USA | 85 min 

Director: Delmar Washington 

Writer: Tucker Morgan 

Producers: Eric B. Fleischman, Maurice Fadida 

Cast: Skylan Brooks, Rutina Wesley, Taryn Manning, Diamond White, Shane West, Bill Engvall  

The Outlaw Johnny Black (Festival Premiere)

Synopsis: From the brothers who brought you Black Dynamite comes a western adventure that’s sho’ outta sight! 

USA | 130 min 

Director: Michael Jai White 

Writers: Michael Jai White, Byron Minns 

Producer: Donovan de Boer 

Cast: Michael Jai White, Anika Noni Rose, Byron Minns, Erika Ash, Chris Browning, Kevin Chapman, Tommy Davidson, Kym Whitley, Randy Couture, Barry Bostwick, Glynn Turman 

Trees of Peace  

Synopsis: When four women from different backgrounds and beliefs are trapped and hiding during the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda, their 81-day fight for survival forges an unbreakable sisterhood.

USA | 137 minutes 

Director: Alanna Brown 

Writer: Alanna Brown 

Producers: Ron Ray, Barry Levine, Mike Bundlie, Brian Baniqued, Jeff Spiegel, Vicky Petela, Alanna Brown 

Cast: Eliane Umuhire, Charmaine Bingwa, Bola Koleosho, Ella Cannon, Tongayi Chirisa 

Voodoo Macbeth  

Synopsis: In 1936 Harlem, the first all-Black cast production of Macbeth struggles to make it to opening night amid the downward spiral of their young and untested director, Orson Welles. 

USA | 108 min 

Directors: Dagmawi Abebe, Victor Alonso-Berbel, Roy Arwas, Hannah Bang, Christopher Beaton, Agazi Desta, Tiffany Kontoyiannis Guillen, Zoë Salnave, Ernesto Sandoval, Sabina Vajrača 

Writers: Agazi Desta, Jennifer Frazin, Morgan Milender, Molly Miller, Amri Rigby, Joel David Satner, Erica Sutherlin, Chris Tarricone 

Producers: Jason Phillips, Miles Alva, Xiaoyuan Xiao 

Cast: Inger Tudor, Jewell Wilson Bridges, Jeremy Tardy, June Schreiner, Wrekless Watson, Gary McDonald, Ashli Haynes, Daniel Kuhlman, Hunter Bodine 

Documentary Features:

100 Years From Mississippi (Festival Premiere)

Synopsis: A documentary on the life of Mamie Lang Kirkland, a 111-year-old African American woman who experienced and survived racial terrorism,  segregation, bigotry and bias, and yet continued to have hope, joy and love of life, full of the certainty that we can do better. 

USA | 60 min 

Director: Tarabu Betserai Kirkland 

Writer: Tarabu Betserai Kirkland 

Producers: Tarabu Betserai Kirkland, Gina Rugolo Judd 

Anatomy of Wings  

Synopsis: Black and white, young and old, a group of women risk their personal identities to build a second family while creating a documentary film across the inequities of their Baltimore city neighborhoods. 

USA | 85 min 

Directors: Nikiea Redmond, Kirsten D’Andrea Hollander

Producers: Kirsten D’Andrea Hollander, Nikiea Redmond 

Cast: Brittany Backmon, Teshavionna ‘Tazz’ Mitchell, Sheila Butler, Marquise Weems, Brienna Brown, Danisha Harris, Cami McCrief, Tywana Reid, Quandra Jones, Quanisha Carmichael, Cinnamon Triano, Kata Frederick 

Big Chief, Black Hawk (World Premiere)

Synopsis: A short and intimate look into the life of the youngest Mardi Gras Indian Big Chief in New Orleans and his “tribe” as they navigate the social and environmental issues facing “the culture.” 

USA | 74 min 

Director: Jonathan Isaac Jackson 

Writer: Jonathan Isaac Jackson 

Producer: Paul V. Fishback  

Cast: Terrance Williams Jr., Tyrell “Ty” Williams, Simeon “Fatman” Israel Jr., Dow Edwards,  Joseph Boudreaux Jr. 

Little Satchmo (U.S. Premiere)

Synopsis: Louis Armstrong is iconic, a symbol of musical genius and unparalleled success. He held dearly to what he loved. Perhaps dearest was a child whom he hid from the world: a daughter sworn to a life of secrecy until now.  

USA | 61 min 

Director: John Alexander 

Writer: John Alexander 

Producers: Lea Umberger, JC Guest 

Cast: Sharon Preston-Folta 

The Neutral Ground 

Synopsis: The Neutral Ground documents New Orleans’ fight over monuments and America’s troubled romance with the Lost Cause. 

USA | 82 min 

Director: CJ Hunt 

Writers: CJ Hunt, Jane Geisler, James Hamilton 

Producer: Darcy McKinnon 

Subjects of Desire (Festival Premiere)

Synopsis: Subjects of Desire is a thought-provoking feature documentary that examines the cultural shift in beauty standards towards embracing Black aesthetics and features. 

Canada | 103 min 

Director: Jennifer Holness 

Writer: Jennifer Holness 

Producers: Jennifer Holness, Sudz Sutherland 

Cast: Ryann Richardson, Alexandra Germain, Seraiah Nicole, Brittany Lewis, Jully Black, Rachel Dolezal, Dr. Cheryl Thompson, Dr. Carolyn West, Dr. Heather Widdows, India Arie 

Unzipped: An Autopsy of American Inequality (World Premiere) 

Synopsis: An intimate and heartbreaking film about the affordable housing crisis in America told through the prism of one zip code’s struggle with the growing income divide.

USA | 108 min

Director: Colin K. Gray

Writer: Colin K. Gray

Producers: Megan Raney Aarons, Jamila C. Fairley, Carol Gronner, Colin K. Gray

Cast: Nikol Williams, DeShawn Huff, William Attaway, Rayanne Schmidt, Monica Perez, Eric Garcetti, Mike Bonin, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Naomi Nightingale, Va Lecia Adams, Kellum, Elizabeth Benson Forer, Becky Dennison, Miguel Bravo, Rick Massie, Mark Ryavec, Ananya Roy, Coley King, Kristina Von Hoffman, M.B. Boissonnault

Why Is We Americans? (World Premiere)

Synopsis: A portrait of the iconoclastic poet Amiri Baraka, his family and their legacy of social activism, poetry, music, art and politics.

USA | 101 min

Directors: Udi Aloni, Ayana Stafford-Morris

Writer: Udi Aloni

Producers: Udi Aloni, Ayana Stafford-Morris, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Oren Moverman

Cast: Amiri Baraka, Ras Baraka, Amina Baraka, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Amandla Baraka, Cory Booker, Amiri Baraka Jr., Roxanne Shanté, Maya Angelou

The in-person ABFF will officially run from Nov. 3-7, with the online portion running directly afterward from Nov. 8-14. For more information on tickets, the Web Series selections and more, head over to the official ABFF website.

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