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The Obamas Surprise Appearance at the 20th Annual Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival

The Obamas Surprise Appearance at the 20th Annual Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival
Reported by: Larissa Hamblin | The Obamas at the MVAFF| Image: MVAAFF

Attendees at the 20th Annual Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival were in for a surprise of a lifetime when Barack and Michelle Obama made an appearance. They came to promote the film “Descendent,” which they acquired through their company, Higher Ground Productions. It will be airing on Netflix, and the pair obtained it after it’s 2022 Sundance Film Festival premiere.

"Descendant" is a documentary that details the search of finding the last slave ship's remains after it arrived in America. The ship, the Clotilda, was burned down on the coast of Africatown, Alabama, in 1860. Today, a great deal of the descendants of those forcibly brought over on the ship remain in Africatown today and the surrounding areas. Director Margaret Brown shares those families' stories, using the search as a catalyst to examine the effects of slavery in America today and the traumatic effects that have rung for decades.

Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, an executive producer on the film, introduced the former president and first lady. The Obamas praised the documentary for its tribulating depiction and resounding message. They shared how their hopes for Higher Ground Production include more content of this caliber to educate those unaware and heal those who have lived through similar tragedies.

“We are now becoming the elders, so what ‘Descendents’ reminds us is that we have to tell our stories to our younger folks,” former FLOTUS Michelle Obama said. “We have to be the ones. We cannot follow that tradition of keeping our pain silent because what this film shows us is that our stories are the power that makes us seen.”

Michelle hopes this movie sparks more conversation between the younger generations and the elders. She hopes to see grandchildren reaching out to their grandparents instead of spending hours upon hours on phones.

“When we left the White House, Michelle and I talked about the things we wanted to do post-presidency,” former president Barack Obama said. “We’ve got a lot of stuff going on, but one of the things that we learned both when we were campaigning for office and taking office was the importance of stories and who tells stories and what stories are valid and what stories are discounted. Because we believe that everybody’s stories matter. Everybody’s got a sacred story that motivates us, moves us. It’s not just a matter of nostalgia, it powers us into the present and the future.”

Image credit: MVAAFF

Other films screens at Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival included “Eve’s Bayou” from director Kasi Lemmons, “Loudmouth” from director Josh Alexander, and “Tyler Perry’s A Jazzman’s Blues” from director Tyler Perry. Netflix’s limited series “From Scratch” was also screened on Sunday, followed by a discussion from the co-creators and sisters, Tembi Locke and Attica Locke.

Established in 2002, Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival is an OSCAR-qualifying film festival in the short film category. This nine-day event is where independent and established African American filmmakers can showcase, screen, and promote their emerging work. The screenings can include feature, documentary, and short films made worldwide. Husband-and-wife team Floyd and Stephanie Rance aim for the MVAAFF to provide an uplifting environment for African American filmmakers to experiment with their creativity and give sponsors a captive audience to promote their brands.

For more on the festival visit:


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