The Black Women Film Network is an organization founded in 1997 by Emmy award-winning Executive Director Sheryl Riley Gripper. The network’s fundamental goal is to prepare Black women to work in the film and TV industries. Their short film competition has taken place for 20 years and features creative Black women in front of and behind the camera. Many dynamic Black women don’t get starring roles or work behind the scenes, and this is proof that we are viable, entertaining, skilled and capable talent ready to push more content with Black female creatives. This year, they went virtual and showcased their official 2020 selection this past online at Kweli TV.
As noted in their press release, “the short films we’ve selected showcase the breadth and depth of Black women’s stories around the world and our storytelling capabilities,” say Jaunice Sills, Chair of BWFN. “Each short was directed by, produced by, written by or starring a Black woman. We are excited to present these stories on the Kweli TV platform – a digital space intentionally created by a Black woman, DeShuna Spencer, who wanted to bring truth to power as it relates to content. At this moment in time in our history – it is critical to recognize Black women’s art, influence and our stories that matter.”
Here are some standouts from the festival:
Honeymoon: Two young and successful Nigerians have an arranged marriage and, knowing very little of each other, must work through their differences in a tropical paradise. Directed by HBO’s Insecure producer and writer Amy Aniobi, Honeymoon is a modern take on arranged marriages. It encapsulates the fears of many single Black women and men in slightly under 15 minutes. The hope and dreams for relationships, amidst societal pressures to feel validated, are cleverly introduced with snappy dialogue and great performances. Stay for the end credits for Aniobi’s adorable parents Felix and Therese, who talk about their arranged marriage.
The Erasure: This poignant and sobering short written and directed by Akeallah Blair uses a Purge-like annual occurrence run by The Confederation, an alt-right group, to highlight the issue of missing Black and Brown women in the U.S. We meet a teenage girl, an established doctor, and a mother kidnapped as part of the event that receives no media coverage or police involvement, just like the real-life cases of missing BIPOC women and girls.
Emerger: Kadjou Sambe is a young African woman born and raised in Dakar, Senegal. She is the first female surfer in Dakar and overcomes societal and religious restrictions that made practicing challenging to navigate. She would sneak out in traditional dress and change to go surf. We follow her as she explores her love for surfing and is discovered by the film’s producer, Rhonda Harper, the founder of Black Girl Surf, a club created for Black women and girls who love the sport. Stunning cinematography and candid interviews make this inspiring film my favorite of the festival.
Home Room: Homeless student Shea (Bobbi MacKenzie) must grapple with staying on top of schoolwork and living on the street. With a heart-melting performance by MacKenzie, this short, directed by Tony Fair, looks at the systemic issues with homelessness, the shelter system, and the stigmas attached.
Watching the Storm: Director Sheena D. Carter takes us into the fascinating world of horology with native Baltimore resident Steven Richardson. His love of watchmaking took him from the drug-filled streets of his Baltimore neighborhood to New York, where he created a name for himself with handcrafted watches that become a favorite of the rich and famous. The death of Freddie Gray spurs him to return to Baltimore to uplift youth with his love of watchmaking.
Impress: When an awkward young woman decides to go on a date after a long stint of being single, her two friends decide to help her remotely to snag a cute guy. This hilarious take on modern dating stars Anteniese Henderson as Presly, who struggles with her uncool environmentalist hobbies and what her friends think will attract her date.
Steve: When a single woman discovers a mouse in her New York City apartment, all hell breaks loose as her game plan of pest removal goes off the rails. See this for the LOL performance from Amber Iman and Keith Randolph Smith, who plays her father, the superb writing by Iman, and the bittersweet scenes in the before-times of New York. For anyone with an eagle eye, P-Valley‘s Lil Murda played by J. Alphonse Nicholson, makes a cameo as a C, entral Park drummer.