The First Purge

Y’lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis and Gerard McMurray talk The First Purge during last year's NBCUniversal First Look Panel. 

American Black Film Festival co-founder Jeff Friday likens Hollywood to a popular club where there is a doorman standing outside deciding who goes inside.

People of color were often the ones outside.

Friday created the festival to showcase Black films and talent in an industry known for exclusivity, elitism and underrepresentation of Black and brown people, and other minority groups. “Hollywood historically has circled around this close group of people that determines who gets in and who doesn't get in,” Friday said. Historically, those who do not have a chance to enter the club have been people of color, he said.

“When I decided to form this festival my goal was to broaden the base of people who work and want to succeed in the film and tv industry.” Friday said. “To really create opportunities to people of color to enter.”

Opportunities to enter will abound in the Magic City this week at the nation’s largest gathering of Black film and television enthusiasts. The 2019 American Black Film Festival is ready to take over Miami Beach with an itinerary chock-full of Hollywood premieres, industry seminars, celebrity tributes, indie films and talent showcase, network opportunities, and parties.

The 23rd American Black Film Festival runs from June 12-16 throughout different venues in Miami Beach.

“Miami Beach is my second home,” said Friday. The festival moved to Miami Beach in 2002 and has enjoyed support from local industry leaders and influencers, as well as support from partnerships with the hotels, restaurants and businesses that accommodate the thousands of guests that come to the festival, Friday said. “Miami Beach has everything that we need.”

The five-day festivities begin with the premiere of an upcoming Hollywood release followed by a bevy of independent film screenings, master classes, panels and celebrity talks. The festival attracts over 7,000 people to Miami Beach each year, which includes Black films fans, emerging artists and filmmakers, upscale consumers and industry stakeholders, according to the festival’s website.

Many great Black filmmakers and actors have used the festival to showcase their work and springboard to larger and bigger projects. Friday pointed to director Ryan Coogler, of "Black Panther" fame, who exhibited his early works during the festival circa 2011. "Black Panther" went on to become a critically acclaimed film and one of the largest-grossing movies of American cinema history.

“Proof is positive that people of color when given opportunities can be very successful within an industry that has not been as diverse as it needs to be,” Friday said. “But everyday Hollywood is doing better, so I am very pleased to see a lot of the changes in the film and tv industry around creating creative and executive diversity.”

Technology has helped to advance more niche and diverse content to audiences, Friday said. Streaming platforms such as Hulu, Netflix, YouTube and others, give filmmakers an avenue to narrow down their content to suit particular audiences, which in turn helps diversify the viewing options. “It has opened up the floodgates for more diverse and specialty content,” Friday said. “I do think we are headed in the right direction.”

This year’s Hollywood premiere is "Shaft," starring Richard Roundtree, Samuel L. Jackson, and Jessie Usher and directed by Tim Story. This marks the fifth installment of the neo-noir action-crime saga centered around the Shaft family of Black detectives who, over the course of the films, face altercations of different crimes. Shaft’s nationwide theatrical release is set for June 14.

Other movie premieres scheduled as part of the festival include "Beats" starring Anthony Anderson and "The Black Godfather," a documentary detailing the life of Clarence Avant, a music industry mogul who has advised and influenced legends such as Bill Withers, Muhammad Ali, Hank Aaron, and former Presidents Barack Obama. Both premieres are courtesy of Netflix.

Several “Master Classes” and discussions panels led by industry professionals also will take place for those wishing to learn more about the ins and outs of the entertainment industry. Education is a big component of the festival, whose mission centers around three pillars: entertainment, enlightenment and education, Friday said.

Major companies such as HBO, BET and Spotify sponsor the panels and classes to connect aspiring filmmakers with industry professionals in a setting where they can ask questions and relate to them in a personal manner.

“It is entertainment with a purpose,” Friday said of the festival’s different classes and panels available to the public.

For more information and schedule of screenings and events visit ABFF.com

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