March On Washington Film Festival: Shedding Light On “Who Tells the Story”

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In its eighth year, the March on Washington Film Festival is from Sept. 20-27, with the theme “Who Tells the Story?”. (Courtesy Photo)

By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor
mgreen@afro.com

While COVID-19 canceled a lot of cultural and social events, the pandemic has not stopped protests and the fight for equity and justice– as is the case with the March on Washington Film Festival (Sept. 20-27), which is virtually continuing its tradition of serving as a legacy project that traces the history of the American Civil Rights Movement.  As the United States faces the pandemic, protests and mourns the loss of major political icons, in its eighth year, the March on Washington Film Festival is examining “Who Tells The Story?”

“A wave of racial violence against Black Americans has sparked an uprising from activists committed to power-building and change. And the deaths of Congressman John Lewis, Rev. C.T. Vivian and other iconic freedom fighters have given us powerful reminders of our civil rights legacy. Now, as a new generation of activists rise up to demand change, the history of our struggle for civil rights is more powerful and more relevant than ever,” said festival Artistic Director Isisara Bey. 

“There’s a proverb that says, ‘until the lion learns to write, every story will glorify the hunter.’ This year, we are exploring these ideas of perspective and narrative in storytelling with the theme, ‘Who Tells The Story?,” Bey added.

For one week, the March on Washington Film Festival is offering panel discussions, film screenings and live performances featuring the likes of MSNBC’s Joy Reid, CNN political commentator Keith Boykin, CNN anchor Laura Jarrett, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Civil Rights attorney Ben Crump, actor Hill Harper, Tony-Award winning actress LaChanze, leaders such as Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, among many others.

“Audiences can expect films, discussions, and performances that center Black stories and Black voices, including the stories and voices of those with intersectional identities like Black women and LGBTQ+ individuals who’ve historically been cut from these stories,” Bey told the AFRO.

The day the festival kicked off, the organization also announced actress Yara Shahidi as the presenter for the “Baldwin and Buckley Debate Reimagined,” which was an examination of the 1965 debate between Black writer and freedom fighter James Baldwin and conservative author and commentator William Buckley.

In addition, the festival will take moments to recognize excellence including announcing the winners of the 2020 “Students & Emerging Filmmaker Competition,” which received 100 submissions from around the world.  

The festival will also honor Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) posthumously with the March on Washington Lifetime Legacy Award.

“We asked for Congressman John Lewis’ permission to honor him with the Lifetime Legacy Award — and he accepted — long before his passing,” Bey told the AFRO.  “As an original freedom fighter and a member of the Movement’s ‘Big Six,’ he helped to write the blueprint on civil disobedience — a blueprint that so many leaders continue to draw from, even today, both here and abroad. His illustrious career touched communities across the United States and inspired a generation of activists and change-makers.  In life, he fought against some of the biggest issues of our time — issues like police brutality and voter suppression. And now, he leaves us with his remarkable legacy.”

The March on Washington Film Festival will also present Rep. Maxine Waters (D- California) and Southern Poverty Law Center President Margaret Huang with “March On” awards for their work in Civil Rights.  The awards ceremony will be hosted by Pulitzer Prize winning Washington Post journalist Jonathan Capehart, and will include presentations from Reid, Bowser and RFK Center’s Kerry Kennedy.  Musical tributes will include jazz harmonica player Frederic Yonnet, blues musician Keb’ Mo’ and country artist Jamey Johnson.

Bey said she hopes audiences will learn new stories, be inspired and gain momentum to continue the work of freedom fighters past and present.

“Every year, festival participants come to me after hearing the powerful stories from our programming and ask me, ‘Why didn’t I know that?’ This year, as we explore the question ‘Who Tells The Story,’ I hope that our audiences take a moment to reflect on that and consider the many stories we’ve yet to hear and the heroes we’ve yet to celebrate,” Bey said.  “And this year, arguably more than ever, our festival is also a forceful reminder that our fight for civil rights is not over. As our audiences watch these films, listen to these discussions, and engage with these performances, I hope they will feel inspired to get involved and join the movement to protect our civil rights — whether by getting involved in their local communities or by filling out their Census forms and registering to vote.”

For more information on the March on Washington Film Festival visit: https://www.marchonwashingtonfilmfestival.org or follow @MoWFilmFest on Twitter and Instagram.