L.A.: Celebrating Black History at the Pan African Film Festival

L.A.: Celebrating Black History at the Pan African Film Festival

It’s that time of year again. February.  Black History Month! A month when black Americans and black Canadians collectively reflect on the contributions, struggles, and triumphs of our brothers and sisters throughout the African diaspora.  

Black History Month got its start in this country back in 1926 at the behest of the “father of black history”, Carter G. Woodson. This month-long celebration actually started out simply as “Negro History Week” during the second week of February to correspond with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.  After many years, the leaders of Kent State University’s Black United Students proposed an extension of the celebration, and in 1976, Black History Month was officially recognized by the U.S. government under President Ford.

When I was in grade school, we often celebrated our Februarys by watching the PBS documentary, “Eyes on the Prize” which followed the Civil Rights Movement here in the United States. Providing an in depth overview of the struggles black people have faced in this country from the days of slavery and sharecropping, to Jim Crow and resistance through the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement, the documentary series was a revelation to my young mind. Watching “Eyes on the Prize” was the first time that I actually saw images of lynchings and footage from Emmett Till’s open-casket funeral. Images of his bloated body and bashed-in face are some that have left indelible impressions on my psyche.

You see, my parents grew up during the Movement and lived and breathed the spirit of that time. So when my brother and I were young, they schooled us on racism, bigotry, and the like. They wanted us to be prepared for the harsh realities that black Americans have to face. Throughout the years, experience has been our best teacher, but thanks to my parents, we’ve never been shocked or caught off guard when discrimination has reared its ugly head towards us. My parents raised fighters. We are always prepared.

But more than preparing us for the worst, our parents also taught us to be proud in our beautiful black skin in spite of the fact that we live in a society that devalues and degrades everything that’s black. How did they teach us such pride? For starters, they educated us about our great black leaders: our writers, our thinkers, our dreamers, our doctors, our ministers, our lawyers, our teachers, our athletes, and our entertainers. In short, people who look like us who’ve overcome great odds to achieve the seemingly impossible.

These are the stories we celebrate during Black History Month, and these are the stories that are brought to the big screen during the annual Pan African Film Festival, now in its 22nd year. I’ve been attending PAFF screenings for the past several years now, and each year, I always walk out of the theater changed in some way by the fictional and sometimes true life stories of people of African descent from around the world. We may be separated by oceans and languages and cultural barriers, but the stories told through these films resonate with me and remind me that my global black family and I share common ties – not only in terms of our skin tones, but in our struggles, survival, and successes alike.

If you’re in L.A. from February 6-17, I hope you’ll take time to catch a PAFF flick and celebrate with us! Here are some of the films I’ll be checking out:

“Bahamian Son”

Based on a true story, this film follows a character named Kevin who embarks on a journey to find his father who’s been absent from his life for 30 years. During his journey which leads him to his father’s home in the Bahamas, Kevin reflects on his childhood experiences growing up in the projects of North Minneapolis as well as his own life and family. Kevin’s journey is one of self-discovery that leads him to discover what it means to be a son, a father, and a man.

Director: Andrew Melby

Click here for more details about this film including screening times.


“Black and Cuba”


Focusing on racial equality as an international human rights issue, this documentary sheds new light on the U.S.-Cuba conflict. In the film, black Ivy Leaguers from Yale who are outcasts at their university travel to Cuba to see if revolution is really possible.  During their travels, they experience moving hip-hop performances, a block party at a racially integrated housing project, and they have candid encounters with Afro Cubans (who make up 60% of Cuba’s population) that highlight the similarities between African Americans, Cubans, and other Latinos. The students’ trip gives them a new perspective and inspires them with new hope that revolutionary social change is really possible.

Director: Robin J. Hayes

Click here for more details about this film including screening times.


“Confusion Na Wa”

In this dark comedy which won the 2013 African Movie Academy Awards for ‘Best Film’ and ‘Best Nigerian Film’, the fates of a group of Nigerian strangers become intertwined over a 24-hour period. The film centers on the plight of two hustlers who discover a cell phone and decide to blackmail the phone’s owner. But their actions spur a chain of events that will lead to their own demise.

Director: Kenneth Gyang

Click here for more details about this film including screening times.


 “Horizon Beautiful”

In an effort to salvage his run-down reputation, Franz, a soccer industry mogul, travels to Addis Ababa to promote the sport as a beacon of hope for humanity. During his journey, Franz discovers that he wants to prove that he’s not really a mean person. But when he’s approached by a 12-year-old street kid named Admassu who tries to show off his soccer skills to Franz, Franz brushes him off. Desperate for Franz’s attention, Admassu devises a plan to have Franz kidnapped by some street thugs so that he can then can “save” Franz and earn his gratitude. But Admassu’s plan is anything but smooth sailing as he and Franz embark on a journey of self-discovery through the Ethiopian countryside.

Director: Stefan Jäger

Click here for more details about this film including screening times.


“La Playa D.C.”

This is the story of three Afro-Colombian brothers who escape to live with their mother in racist Bogotá after their father is killed. When their mom’s boyfriend kicks them out one-by-one, the middle brother, Tomas, tries to stay on the right path while keeping tabs on his misguided brothers who’ve resorted to drugs and petty crime. When his youngest brother goes missing, Tomas hits the streets of the city to search for him and comes to terms with his past in the process.

Director: Juan Andrés & Arango Garcia

Click here for more details about this film including screening times.


“They Are We”

Despite being sold into slavery in Cuba, Josefa managed to hold on to the traditions and culture of her village back in Africa. Even better, she taught these traditions to her children and grandchildren. Fast forward 160 years to the present, and Josefa’s descendants continue to keep their traditions alive as they embark on a quest to meet their African relatives despite the fact that as Cubans, they don’t have the freedom to travel, and despite their African relatives’ extreme poverty.

Director: Emma Christopher

Click here for more details about this film including screening times.


“Toussaint Louverture”

This two-part action illustrates the life of Toussaint Louverture, the Haitian revolutionary who led the first successful slave revolt in history. With an army that singlehandedly defeated France, England, and Spain, Toussaint’s victory forced Napoleon Bonaparte’s hand in the Louisiana Purchase. Because of Louverture’s leadership, Haiti became the first free black nation in the world, and the institution of slavery and the doctrine of white supremacy were turned on their heads.

Director: Philippe Niang

Click here for more details about this film including screening times.


Plan Your Visit

Click here for a list of films, screening dates, and times

Rave Cinemas 15
4020 Marlton Ave.
Regular ticket prices:
Adult general admission – $12
Adult matinee (before 3pm weekdays; 1pm weekends & holidays) – $10
Students (with ID) – $10
Seniors – $8
Kids under 12 yrs. – $6

Have you been to the Pan African Film Festival?

  • Hi Dana! It’s my first time here in your blog. I’ve seen all the trailers and they’re all interesting especially Bahamian Son. It reminds me of a story of an old friend who found out who his father was after 23 years. I would love to attend a film festival that focuses on Black Americans and Africans. Too bad I’m in the Philippines now T_T

    • Dana Carmel

      So glad you found my blog – it’s always great to get new readers! I really want to see “Bahamian Son,” but the screening interferes with my work schedule. Anyway, maybe you’ll be able to find some of the films on YouTube. It looks like “La Playa D.C.” isn’t a trailer but is actually the entire film. Maybe you’ll find the time to watch it. 🙂

  • You know what I totally focused on for this post, Dana? That part about your parents and the Movement. How you were raised. You gave us a little deeper peek into Dana Carmel. You are so kind and filled with some of the brightest sunshine of any blog I read. Even more so that I can call you and Jave friends to Phoenix and me. We absolutely adore both of you. So very proud of the incredibly beautiful woman you are today in your heart or more so to all of those around you 🙂

    • Dana Carmel

      You know, while my parents prepared us to deal with racism, they also taught us that there are good and bad in every ethnic group and that our focus has to be on judging people by their character. I really appreciate your comments and support, Mike! We adore you and our favorite pup, too! 😉

  • Have a happy black history month. I first heard of Emmett Till recently after an outcry, which was a result of his ordeal being distastefully mentioned in rapper Lil Wayne’s lyrics. I then read the story of Emmett Till and his brutal murder and understand why his death was a poignant moment in the history of America.

    Another interesting fact I came across, is that less than 5% of enslaved Africans ended up in what is now the USA, the rest more than 95% were taken to the Caribbean and Latin America. This is interesting because I had always thought of blacks in the Diaspora consist of only Americans and Jamaicans.

    Thanks for the video clips, will make sure to check them out.

    • Dana Carmel

      Thanks, Rachel – happy BHM to you as well! I also heard that stat about slavery in America. I believe that the majority of slaves ended up in Brazil and sometimes I wonder if that’s why I feel such an affinity for Brazil and various places in the Caribbean. Perhaps I have long lost relatives there?? It always baffles me just how far reaching the African diaspora really is. It truly is worldwide. I think the most surprising place for me was encountering Afro-Polynesians while in Tahiti. I recall talking to this Afro-Polynesian vendor, and her daughter kept staring at me and I kept staring at her. It was like looking at my own reflection in many ways.

      • I’m also surprised how far reaching the African diaspora, especially in Latin America is. Some interesting stuff from Colombia:



        • I posted link to the video, but the clip appeared – hope you don’t mind.

          • Dana Carmel

            Rachel, I totally don’t mind because you always post such interesting, relevant stuff. Thanks for sharing this video – makes me want to go out and have a street party. Colombia is very high on my list of places to go. It’s funny because when I was growing up in Panama in the ’80s, you wouldn’t dare think of going there because of the drug cartels and what not. But I’m so interested in Afro-Colombian culture and I’m hoping to go back to Panama, go to Colombia, and back to Brazil in 2015 with my whole family. Fingers crossed. Anyway, I went to a few screenings last night and watched “They Are We” and I totally thought of your comment on one of my posts. You commented on a pic of my brother dancing, and you said that the pose he did was reminiscent of a Congolese dance style. This movie is so interesting – basically, a family in Cuba and the Banta people in Sierra Leone discover that they’re related because of a similar initiation dance they perform and the song they sing while performing it. The Cuban family reunites with the African villagers and what unfolds onscreen is amazing. If you ever get a chance to see this film – see it! It’s just amazing that although most of us in the diaspora have no knowledge of our African roots, our DNA runs strong and we subconsciously keep African traditions going (i.e., hair braiding, music, even our foods like in Jamaica, etc.). I seriously would love to spend like a good 6 months traveling through and learning about West Africa.

  • Film festivals are fascinating. I am always searching for these kind of movies or
    documentaries. Good films are very hard to find and the most thought provoking work is not likely to turn up at general theaters. The list sounds very interesting. It reminded me that people of African descent face similar issues regardless of where they live throughout the world.

    • Dana Carmel

      I also love indie flicks, Eduardo. You’re right – they really are some of the best movies. While we in the African diaspora have faced many struggles, we also celebrate great triumphs. Thanks for reading!


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