Edwards: ‘Being Black at this year’s Sundance Film Festival exceeded my expectations’

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By MELEISHA EDWARDS | Contributor

Being Black at the Sundance Film Festival: In 2006, this would have been deemed a huge oxymoron. Back then, there were very few films directed by people of color and even fewer resources that represented diversity.

Fast forward to 2019, we are at a very different time. Sundance’s slate included a fair share of films that were directed or starred persons from communities of color.

And one of the biggest glass ceilings broke this year: Chinonye Chukwu made history as the first African-American woman to win the festival’s grand jury prize for her film “Clemency,” starring Alfre Woodard, Danielle Brooks, Wendell Pierce.

When I found out that Chukwu won Sundance’s top award, it confirmed the feeling that permeated the atmosphere: Sundance was going to be to a breakout year for us—yes, I am talking about Black people. 

My suspicions were confirmed true. At this year’s festival, Black feature films were standout. From “Native Son,” based on a book by Richard Wright, about a young African American named Bigger Thomas and how working for a highly influential Chicago family changed his life to “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” a film that highlights the downfall of gentrification in his city, there was a variety of black film flavor to appeal to everyone’s taste.

Overall, there were a record-breaking twenty plus films that were official selections directed by black filmmakers or had a prominent role with a black star.

But let’s be honest, films are great, but to get black people to trek through the cold and snow, there might need to be a little more to do.

This is where The Blackhouse Foundation shines. The Blackhouse Foundation was created in 2006 by a group of dedicated individuals interested in Black cinema and made their debut at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.

What the Black House Foundation does is help bring diverse resources for black filmmakers to majority festivals such as Sundance.

Blackhouse 2019 was hosted at Sundance from Jan 25–28 and was absolutely awesome. It featured four packed days of informative panels, brunches, film discussions, and parties.

The most exciting thing about Blackhouse is that all of these activities were free with RSVP, and that is because of the generous sponsorship from OWN, BET, UMC, and many others.

The panels that ranged from “The Power of Storytelling to Create Change” for directors, writers, and producers, to conversations with celebrities about their upcoming projects such as OWN’s “David Makes Man,” who hosted a panel featuring A-list actors Michael B. Jordan and Phylicia Rashad.

And the parties were off the chain! They were celebrity-filled, had great music, and were fun! Blackhouse knows how to bring it. And the networking connections made were priceless.

There was also the MACRO Lounge, which was an installation hosted by MACRO (Fences, Mudbound) CEO and Vanderbilt alumnus Charles King and his wife Stacy, hosted panels with industry influencers like Mara Brock Akil who spoke about being a Muslim in Hollywood and Jada Pinkett Smith who talked about her show Red Table Talk.

Even though the lounge was invite-only, if you can get in there, it is the hottest place to be if you are Black and at Sundance. It boasted a beautiful setup, a beautiful location, and hosted the best parties!

And as an independent, black female filmmaker, this year exceeded my expectations. I mean, I got an opportunity to meet Ava DuVernay. I also met Mara Brock Akil. I met with and enjoyed a great conversation with Charles King.

If that was all Sundance had to offer to me this year, that would have been enough in my world. But I also connected with many producers, distributors, network executives, and mingled with some amazing celebrities that I have adored over the years.

This year, by far, has been the best year yet. So, being Black at Sundance proved to be a great thing. I cannot wait until Sundance 2020!

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