Barack and Michelle Obama make surprise appearance at MVAAFF

The 2022 Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival (MVAAFF) kicked off Friday with great pomp and circumstance, and a few bars of “Hail to the Chief,” as Barack and Michelle Obama made a guest appearance for the opening night screening. from the Netflix documentary “Descendants.”

When Netflix acquired the worldwide rights to the Sundance Award-winning documentary in January, the Obamas’ production company Higher Ground signed on to host the feature along with the streamer and Participant. The documentary, which won the US Special Jury Award for Creative Vision at Sundance, will be released on the streaming service 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 the members of Africatown, a small community in Alabama, as they share their stories personal. and the history of the community as descendants of the Clotilda, the last known ship to transport enslaved Africans to the United States. The ship arrived in the United States 40 years after the African slave trade became a capital crime. It quickly burned down and its existence was denied, but “after a century shrouded in secrecy and speculation, the descendants of Clotilda’s survivors are reclaiming her story,” according to the film’s tagline.

For nearly 15 minutes, the former president and first lady held the audience’s attention as they preached the importance of uncovering the untold story and their goal of supporting projects that do just that, like “Descendant,” through their Higher Ground banner. .

“When we screened this…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 don’t talk about anything. 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, nobody knows why grandma and grandpa got divorced. We just don’t talk. And there’s a lot of psychology around that, but what this movie reminds us of is the power of our stories. And we have to tell that truth.”

Michelle added: “We have to tell our stories to our young people. We have to be us, we cannot follow that tradition of silencing our pain, because what this film shows us is that our stories are the power that makes us see. And I also thought, this could be the beginning of a storytelling process, because guess what we have? We have phones, everyone is using them. And we need to encourage our young people to reach out to the older ones who already exist. And instead of taking photos of your food, or in addition to taking photos of your food and the latest TikTok, whatever, how about talking to grandma and great-grandma and asking them some of those questions?

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EDGARTOWN, MASSACHUSETTS – AUGUST 5: Barack Obama speaks during the premiere of Netflix’s Descendant during the Martha’s Vineyard Black Film Festival at the Harbor View Hotel on August 5, 2022 in Edgartown, Massachusetts. (Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images for Netflix)
Getty Images for Netflix

They also made a couple of jokes about Martha’s Vineyard as their vacation home. After being introduced by “Descendant” executive producer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Michelle stepped up to the microphone and said, “Surprise!” she praised the festival’s founders, Floyd and Stephanie Rance, and joked that they can’t come to the event often because they “create a commotion.” And when someone yelled at Barack that they wanted him back in the White House, he commented that if he did that, 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 telling the story of Africatown.

“When we left the White House, Michelle and I talked about the things that we wanted to do after the presidency. We’re going through a lot of things, but one of the things we learned both when we were campaigning for office and when we took office was the importance of stories and who tells the stories and what stories are valid and what stories are discarded. Barak said. “And it’s one of the powers of this festival, and the work the Rances have done is to bring to light stories that have too often been lost to time. Because we believe that everyone’s stories matter. Everyone has a sacred story that motivates us, moves us. It is not just a matter of nostalgia, it propels us towards the present and the future”.

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

Brown, Chambers, Martin and co-producer Dr. Kern Jackson were in attendance at the opening night screening, who participated in a question and answer session about the film following 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, Variety exclusively announced that the documentary would open the iconic 20th edition of the film festival, but the Obamas’ appearance at the event was a pleasant surprise. Also seen in the audience were Stacey Abrams, former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the Rev. Al Sharpton, who will engage in a conversation about “Loudmouth,” the documentary about their life of activism and protest, on Saturday afternoon. After a pre-show DJ salute, the trio of political powerhouses received a standing ovation from the packed house.

The Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival, an Oscar-qualifying film festival in the shorts category, will take place August 5-13 with an impressive lineup of independent films, documentaries, panel discussions and exclusive events. This year’s festival features Tyler Perry, in conversation about his upcoming Netflix movie “A Jazzman’s Blues,” and Kasi Lemmons, who is receiving the Legacy Spotlight for her classic film “Eve’s Bayou.” Additional talent includes Regina Hall, Reginald Hudlin, Michael Ealy, Patina Miller and the cast of Peacock’s “The Best Man: The Final Chapters.”

See the Obamas’ full speech above.

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