The 2024 American Black Film Festival: My First Visit and Its Lasting Impact | GLAAD (2024)

I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived in a rainy, humid Miami after a day of hectic travel and delayed flights, but days later I left with no regrets. As a seasoned red carpet veteran, I’ve covered the American Black Film Festival Honors ceremony in Los Angeles for the past few years, but I’ve never had the privilege of actually attending the flagship festival–or visiting Miami, for that matter–so I was able to cross two things off of my never-ending bucket list.

Like all film festivals, ABFF featured a healthy mix of panels and screenings. My first day began with an exclusive screening of the season two premiere of Hulu’s “Unprisoned,” starring Kerry Washington. Although I was aware of the show’s existence, I hadn’t watched any of the first season. The episode that we screened roped me in. I’d classify it as a heartwarming dramedy, and it was fun to watch Washington slip into a role that’s such a far departure from the iconic Olivia Pope. The panel conversation that followed was moderated by author and radio host, Bevy Smith. Kerry Washington and author Tracy McMillan joined her as speakers. I was familiar with some of Tracy’s previous work in television on the OWN network, but I had no idea that “Unprisoned” is based on and inspired by her actual real life!

During the conversation, Washington and McMillan spoke to the importance and impact of therapy, especially in multigenerational households. “I think there’s always something to gain because what’s most important about therapy is not the person who’s sitting across from you, it’s you where you’re sitting. Are you open? Are you willing to see yourself?,” Washington said, with McMillian adding that “Unprisoned” is about “getting free.”

Bevy rounded out the chat by sharing that her inner child’s name is “Little Brown Bevy,” and she encouraged us to explore fun names for our own inner child.

Later that evening, I attended a panel for Tyler Perry’s upcoming film “Divorce In Black” starring Meagan Good and Cory Hardrict. The trailer was full of suspenseful moments that were easily reminiscent of a good Lifetime Network film. Richard Lawson and Debbi Morgan also star in the film. During the panel conversation, Good gave Morgan her flowers. The two first worked together in the classic film “Eve’s Bayou,” which coincidentally was released in 1997, the same year ABFF started. “To work with Debbi again […] it was really, really beautiful to relate to her now as a grown woman,” Good said. “She’s just such a queen, and such a light, and such a phenomenal actress and human being. It just was really, really special to have that full circle moment.”

Additional highlights from the festival included “P-Valley” star Nicco Annan who premiered an episode from his upcoming docuseries, “Down In The Valley.” The six-episode show explores taboo culture around varying topics in the deep south, and it is highly entertaining. I also attended a panel about navigating finances with Nia Long as the speaker and another one on the power of networking with TV One’s Senior Vice President of Programming, Austyn Biggers. Jussie Smollett re emerged alongside Hollywood veteran, Vivica A. Fox in a drama titled “The Lost Holliday,” which was produced by Mona Scott Young.

Rapper Trina also made an appearance in a one-on-one conversation with Chris Spencer for TV One’s “Uncensored,” where she shared stories of her upbringing in Miami-Dade County. Issa Rae was joined on stage with “Blackish” creator, Kenya Barris, in a conversation that was a bit all over the place. She interviewed him about his lengthy career, and at one point Barris spoke to the ills of censorship and cancel culture. He referenced his infamous public twitter spat with Judd Apatow in 2014 in the wake of Bill Cosby’s sexual assault accusations that were presented in a a pre- #MeToo world.

To round the week out, GLAAD hosted their inaugural Queer Lens Brunch which featured two panel conversations, two short films, and a podcast teaser. The first panel featured Donnie Hue Frazier III, Alexander King, and Soy Giraud. I moderated the conversation and the three panelists detailed how their lives have changed since being awarded $5,000 a piece as winners of a pitch contest that took place at GLAAD’s Black Queer Creative Summit back in September 2023. The main panel featured actors Alexandra Grey, Jonica Booth, and Jussie Smollett. It was moderated by Sidra Smith, and everyone spoke to their nuanced journeys navigating Hollywood at the intersections of Blackness and their respective LGBTQ+ identity.

ABFF 2024 was a unique experience and an opportunity to spotlight creatives at varying levels. As the festival continues to expand and grow with each passing year, one can only hope that diversity in perspective will be prioritized so that the full colorful spectrum of Blackness can be showcased and acknowledged.

The 2024 American Black Film Festival: My First Visit and Its Lasting Impact | GLAAD (2024)
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