Cinema that Honors the Legacy of Juneteenth Beyond Just One Day

This blog post was originally published on our very own Eden Sapir’s blog Cinema 4 Culturehere. Be sure to check out Cinema 4 Culture – a place to amplify unique independent films that reflect diverse voices and stories from across the world.


Per the dictionary definition, Juneteenth is a holiday celebrated on 19 June to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people in the US. The holiday was first celebrated in Texas, where on that date in 1865, in the aftermath of the Civil War, slaves were declared free under the terms of the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation.

Now a national holiday, as it should be, this declaration represents steps taken prematurely on the US government’s end. My reaction can be described by the image below:

Image credit: @teachandtransform

Viola Davis said it perfectly on her IG post:“The white man will try to satisfy us with symbolic victories rather than economic equity and real justice.” — Malcolm X
I appreciate Juneteenth becoming a national holiday. However, we still have so much work to do to achieve economic equality and transformative”

At least five Republican-led state legislatures have passed bans on critical race theory or related topics in recent months, and conservatives in roughly nine other states are pressing for similar measures. Some teachers have said they worry that the legislation will have a chilling effect on robust conversations, or could even put their jobs at risk, at a time when the nation is embroiled in reckoning on race relations. (Washington Post)

Gallatin County Schools board this week banned critical race theory in an effort to “not create greater divisions” among students and staff, superintendent Larry Hammond wrote in a Thursday statement to The Enquirer. The five board members – Rebecca Burgett, Hargis Davis, Amanda Dunavent, Chuck Toler, and Sonya Giles – have not responded to The Enquirer with additional comments about the decision.

The board voted unanimously Tuesday evening to ban critical race theory (CRT) throughout the district, which is comprised of 1,725 students located in a county that is 95% white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It is the first school board in the Cincinnati region and apparently the first board in Kentucky to do so. (Cincinnati.com The Enquirer)

These abhorrent actions across the US education system should all point to the very obvious fact that the US government and supposed “allies” of this country are not actually listening; and should not be patting themselves on the back. This attempt at making Juneteenth a national holiday before acknowledging and dismantling oppressive, racist systems is another way of gaslighting the Black community and anyone that questions the white supremacist systems that this country exists on.

In this blog post, I want to acknowledge the role that media, art, and cinema can play in amplifying the message of this holiday far beyond just one day a year. 12 months a year, 365 days to challenge these oppressive and gaslighting systems to honor the humanity and freedom of Black Americans.

To commemorate Juneteenth, Black communities celebrate by having parades, going to festivals, hosting barbecues, and coming together in fellowship and prayer, per Delish. With Tribeca Film Festival 2021 starting last week and running throughout the month of June, I was delighted to discover a short film program dedicated to amplifying the spirit of Juneteenth — Shorts: Shining Stars.

Showing the fully realized dimensions of Black people’s lives – as most movies do for White people’s lives — I watched these six short films illustrate the magnitude of Black life through joyous, vibrant, vital, and beautiful narrative and non-fiction filmmaking. It is my honor to introduce the filmmakers and films behind these six mesmerizing short films, that you can still watch at watch.tribecafilm.com:

CHERRY LEMONADE

Directed by Aisha Ford
“On a hot summer day in the hood, a Black girl (Eris Baker) learns to take the lead on her own terms.”

Cherry Lemonade is a beautifully captured short film, a portrait of a young black girl finding her power and agency, on her terms.

Director Aisha Ford is an award-winning filmmaker studying as a graduate film student at New York University Tisch School of the Arts. She has written and directed short films broadcast on platforms such as the American Black Film Festival Independent TV series and screened at multiple film festivals across the country.

WAVES

Directed by Agazi Desta

“A Black, deaf teen (Omete Anassi) wants ‘Waves’ for prom night, but his haircut falls into the hands of an inattentive, rookie barber (Jason Dalhouse).”

Waves is a nearly perfect short film in my opinion. A joyful, illuminating, beautifully sensitive, and intimate story of what trust looks like, especially between a character who is hearing-impaired and one that is not. Such gentle characterizations. Loved this so much, and hope this short film finds wider distribution as it could generate really important and socially impactful conversations. As well as straight-up education to people that just don’t know what it’s like to be a hearing-impaired person, and what it looks like to be supportive and an ally.

Director Agazi Desta is a first-generation Ethiopian-American writer and director from Boston. Coming from a humble background, he has a profoundly innate interest in drawing vision from the communities surrounding him.

ENOUGH

Directed by Caleb Slain

“A dream, a nightmare, a musical. Ten years in the making, welcome to the stormy inner world of one boy (Nathan Nzanga) growing up in America.”

“The word ‘love’ is something you do” Enough is an experimental, dream-like musical phantasm of sound, image, and mood. Very excited for Director Caleb Salon’s future. Though I find it difficult to empathize with oppressive systems like the police, the message here was clear but of course may have gotten lost in scenes for some audiences understandably. It’s a big responsibility to tackle these issues but it’s a responsibility that must be taken seriously in this field of visual storytelling, no question.

19 SEVENTY FREE: PART 1

Directed by Louis Bryant and AmaYah Harrison

“19 Seventy Free is a visual EP celebrating the complexities of black love and artistic freedom with music as its primary voice.”

What some might call a music video, I call cinematic expression of the soul. 19 Seventy Free is a joyful and loving short film that uses movement — instrumental to the foundation of cinema as an art form per Maya Deren — to not overwhelm but add to the substance of this beautiful love story.

Co-Director Louis Bryant III is an international photographer and filmmaker with a passion for storytelling and creative narratives. Co-Director Amayah Harrison is a San Francisco State University graduate with experience in photography and videography, and a focus on the black aesthetic.

MAGNOLIA BLOOM

Directed by Tayo Amos

“In 1950s Las Vegas, a black singer (Lex Scott Davis) is on the verge of her big break, but she risks it all when she learns her audience won’t be integrated.”

A strip of history told through a beautiful fictional novella. Magnolia Bloom is vital and vibrant, in style and heart. Felt like I was taken back in time with the stellar production design and costume design work on this film. A stunning cinematic effort made by a team of talented creatives.

SILENCE

Directed by TJ O’Grady Peyton

“A young man (Kai Joseph Keenan-Felix) wanders around the city, where people wearing masks come and go. One day, he finds a girl (Lauryn Bryan) dancing ballet in an abandoned building.”

Silence has “movie magic” written all over its 14-minute runtime. Made me want to follow the main character’s journey of self-discovery long after the credits. Seeing people, especially from marginalized communities, experience joy is a beautiful and simple act of filmmaking magic that is one of many examples to highlight the beautiful sound of freedom.

TJ O’Grady-Peyton is a graduate of the London Film School, and the winner of honors including ​Cannes Young Director Award, a Clio Award, and a Discovery Award.

There are many other films and media content that I can share from Tribeca (The Queen of Basketball) to Barry Jenkins’ rapturous masterwork that’s now streaming on Prime Video (The Underground Railroad) — so this blog post is just a start. As the honor and legacy of Juneteenth should be amplified 365 days a year, not just one day. Black history is American history. Period.

Written by Eden Sapir originally on Cinema 4 Culture.

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