Barack and Michelle Obama make a surprise appearance on MVAAFF

The 2022 Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival (MVAAFF) kicked off with great pomp and circumstance on Friday — and a few bars of “Hail to the Chief” — when Barack and Michelle Obama made a special appearance for the opening screening of the Netflix documentary. descendant.”

When Netflix acquired the worldwide rights to the Sundance Award-winning documentary in January, the Obamas’ production company Higher Ground signed on to present the film alongside the streamer and contestant. The documentary, which won the US Special Jury Award for Creative Vision at Sundance, is slated to release on the streamer later this year.

Directed by Margaret Brown (“The Order of Myths”, “Be Here to Love Me: Townes Van Zandt”, “The Great Invisible”), the documentary follows members of Africatown, a small community in Alabama, as they tell their personal stories and community history as descendants of the Clotilda, the last known ship that transported enslaved Africans to the United States. The ship arrived in America 40 years after the African slave trade became a crime. It was immediately burned and its existence denied, but “after a century of secrecy and speculation, the descendants of the Clotilda’s survivors are reclaiming their history,” according to the film’s logline.

For nearly 15 minutes, the former President and First Lady held the audience’s attention as they preached the importance of uncovering untold history and their goal of supporting projects that do just that, like Descendant, through their Higher Ground -Banner.

“When we showed that … we looked at it and immediately thought, ‘That’s why we’re doing Higher Ground.’ Because what we know about our history as Black people, we’re not talking about nothing. We can’t get anything out of our elders, can we? We don’t know anything,” Michelle said. “Our mothers don’t talk about menopause, no one knows why grandma and grandpa got divorced. We just don’t talk. And there’s a lot of psychology involved, but what this film reminds us of is the power that our stories have. And we must tell that truth.”

Michelle added: “We need to tell our stories to our younger people. We have to be the ones, we can’t follow this tradition of hiding our pain because this film shows us that our stories are the power that makes us visible. And I also thought that might be the start of a storytelling process, because guess what we have? We have phones, everyone uses them. And we must encourage our young people to reach out to the existing elders. And instead of taking photos of your food, or in addition to taking photos of your food and the latest TikTok, whatever it is, how about talking to grandma and great-grandma and asking them some of these questions?

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EDGARTOWN, MASSACHUSETTS – AUGUST 05: Barack Obama speaks during the premiere of Netflix’ Descendant during the Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival at Harbor View Hotel on August 05, 2022 in Edgartown, Massachusetts. (Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images for Netflix)
Getty Images for Netflix

They also made a few jokes about Martha’s Vineyard being their vacation home. After being introduced by “Descendant” executive producer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Michelle approached the mic and said, “Surprise!” Praising the festival’s founders, Floyd and Stephanie Rance, she joked that they don’t often come to the event because they “cause a stir”. And when someone yelled at Barack that they wanted him back in the White House, he remarked that if he did, he wouldn’t be able to spend a month on the island. But Barack’s speech soon turned serious as he reflected on the importance of being a part of Africatown’s history.

“As we left the White House, Michelle and I talked about the things we wanted to do after the presidency. We have a lot of things going on, but one of the things we learned from running for office and taking office was the importance of stories and who tells stories and which stories are valid and which stories aren’t considered. said Barack. “And it’s one of the powers of this festival, and the work that the Rances have done is to bring stories back to life that have all too often been lost in the flow of time. Because we believe everyone’s story matters. Everyone has a sacred story that motivates us, moves us. It’s not just a matter of nostalgia, it propels us into the present and future.”

Kyle Martin, Essie Chambers and Brown produced the project. Executive producers are Jeff Skoll and Diane Weyermann of Participant; Kate Hurwitz of Cinematic Media; Two One Five Entertainment’s Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, Shawn Gee and Zarah Zohlman.

For the opening night screening, Brown, Chambers, Martin and co-producer Dr. Kern Jackson in attendance, who attended a Q&A about the film after the sold-out event with Joycelyn Davis and Veda Tunstall, both descendants of Clotilda and subjects of the doc. The conversation was moderated by Dr. jessica harris

Last month, diversity exclusively announced that the documentary would open the landmark 20th edition of the film festival, but the Obamas’ appearance at the event came as a pleasant surprise. Also spotted in the audience were Stacey Abrams, former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Rev. Al Sharpton – who will sit down for a conversation on Saturday afternoon about “Loudmouth,” the documentary about his life of activism and protest. After a shoutout from the pre-show DJ, the trio of political powerhouses received a standing ovation from a packed house.

The Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival, an Oscar-qualified film festival in the short film category, runs August 5-13 with an impressive lineup of independent films, documentaries, panel discussions and exclusive events. At this year’s celebration, Tyler Perry discusses his upcoming Netflix film A Jazzman’s Blues and Kasi Lemmons receiving the Legacy Spotlight for her classic film Eve’s Bayou. Other talents include Regina Hall, Reginald Hudlin, Michael Ealy, Patina Miller and the cast of Peacock’s The Best Man: The Final Chapters.

Watch the Obamas’ full speech above. Barack and Michelle Obama make a surprise appearance on MVAAFF

Charles Jones

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