The Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival kicked off Friday night with a documentary Descendantfrom Netflix and Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions, and the former president and first lady were the surprise opening night guests.
Directed by Margaret Brown Descendantwhich premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, follows the members of Africatown, a small community in Alabama, as they share their personal stories and community history as descendants of the Clotilda, the last known slave ship to illegally transport human beings. humans as cargo from Africa to America.
When the film was initially introduced by festival founders Stephanie and Floyd Rance, they brought in the director, who introduced Oscar winner Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. He spoke briefly before inviting “friends” of his onstage. Those friends turned out to be the Obamas who have a house on Martha’s Vineyard.
Michelle Obama first spoke about reaching out to her elders and listening to their stories and heritage.
“We need to encourage our young people to reach out to our elders who already exist,” he said. “Instead of taking photos of your food, how about talking to grandma or great-grandma and asking them some of those questions?”
He went on to talk about the documentary and what is important to American history. “DescendantIt reminds us of the power of the stories we have.”
President Obama then spoke to the crowd about why it is essential that Clotilda’s descendants and their stories be heard.
“This documentary captures an important chapter in our history, one that is too often distorted, forgotten or buried.” He then addressed the subject of the documentary, Africatown, and why they intend to connect with their past.
“For the people of Africatown, this represented a story of extraordinary pain and hardship, but also a story of strength, resilience and overcoming.”
Stacey Abrams, the Rev. Al Sharpton and former Atlanta Mayor Kesha Lance Bottoms also appeared at the screening.
Descendant explores the implications of Clotilda’s discovery for Descendants, who grapple with their heritage while reclaiming the power to shape their own destinies, and won a Special US Jury Award for Creative Vision at Sundance.