When one hears the name of social justice activist Angela Davis, a litany of connotations are immediately formed whether they are accurate or not. The documentary, “Free Angela and All Political Prisoners,” aims to correct misconceptions and reveal hidden truths behind the woman who was marked a terrorist and ignited a movement for her freedom as a political prisoner. The film proved to be an engaging learning experience for its Harlem-based producer Sidra Smith, the identical twin sister of actress, Tasha Smith.
“A lot of people think they know Angela Davis but they don’t. One of the things I learned is that she wasn’t a Black Panther and I was like ‘wow.’ So this is a story that everyone needs to know,” says Smith.
She also believes that the Shola Lynch-directed film is relevant for its ability to inspire others to remain committed to their beliefs and goals. “Angela has always fought for what she believed in until this very day. I feel that more women need some of that energy to be more inspired and fight for what we believe in.” The film arrives in select cities on April 5.
Powerful films will also be screened during the 20th anniversary of the New York African Film Festival at Film Society of Lincoln Center. This year’s banner theme is “Looking Back, Looking Forward” and as its founder, Mahen Bonetti, reflects on the festival’s past and future, she remains committed to further developing and sustaining a global audience for emerging talent. “I’m most proud that we brought together a community that has supported African artists and their works. Looking forward, we are hoping that artists can find an intersection where they share ideas and create a synergy that creates a clamor for their works from audiences here and around the world.”
One of the highly anticipated films at this year’s festival is the historical two-part drama Toussaint Louverture, about the leader of the slave revolts which led to Haiti’s independence from the French. Hollywood actor Jimmy Jean-Louis plays the title role and hopes that the film challenges audiences to think critically about Haiti’s history. “It is not normal for a country on top of its game 200 years ago to be so disastrous today,” he says. “I don’t think we understand what happened between then and now. It’s a great question and I hope more people will ask that question and try to research it as well.”
He also noted that playing the role has motivated him to continue helping to rebuild Haiti through his foundation, Hollywood Unites for Haiti. “After one year of researching and playing him there is a part of him slowly getting into my skin as well. It’s great ‘cause I am being inspired by him.”
Recognizing a need for more community oriented and affordable art galleries in Park Slope, Brooklyn has led "G-Train Salon" curators Krista Saunders and Jill Benson to team up again to launch Ground Floor Gallery. “We're hoping to create change by introducing residents of Park Slope, and beyond to emerging, original talent they can support without breaking the bank,” says Saunders. The official opening is April 6 for the exhibition, “Next Generation.”
With their passion and dedication to empowering communities through their respective projects, Smith, Bonetti, Jean-Louis, Saunders and Benson are ensuring that the legacy of Davis lives on.
Honorable Mentions: Voza Rivers/New Heritage Theatre Group and the New York Academy of Medicine present “Speaking in Rhythms: An Afro/Latino Music Mosaic.” The series highlights performance and visual artists from East Harlem and the greater New York City community. On April 7, featured performers include the band, Nicky Laboy & His Latin Ensemble Con Licencia and special guest performers, Impact Repertory Theatre.
The City College of New York, the Japanese community and New Heritage Theatre are planning a commemorative program and installation of a reproduction of the original 1912 plaque that was installed in Harlem’s Sakura Park and is now missing. The event takes place on Saturday, April 13 at 10 a.m. at the City College of New York, located at 160 Convent Avenue (138th Street & Convent Avenue) in Harlem.
The Harlem Arts Alliance is a not for profit arts service organization celebrating 10 years of service to a prestigious list of members such as the Apollo Theater, the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, Columbia University, Harlem Stage (Aaron Davis Hall) and over 850 more cultural/arts institutions and individuals. The weekly column, Harlem Arts Alliance Presents: On the “A” w/Souleo, covers the intersection of the arts, culture and entertainment scene in Harlem and beyond and is written by Souleo, founder and president of event/media content production company, Souleo Enterprises, LLC.