Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival kicked off with documentary film Friday night Descendantfrom Netflix and Higher Ground Productions from Barack and Michelle Obama, and the former President and First Lady were the surprise guests on opening night.
directed by Margaret Brown, DescendantPremiered at the Sundance Film Festival, it follows members of Africatown, a small Alabama community, as they share their personal stories and community histories as descendants of the Clotilda, the last known slave ship to illegally transport people from Africa to the Americas as cargo.
When the film was initially introduced by festival founders Stephanie and Floyd Rance, they brought up the director, who introduced Oscar winner Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. He spoke shortly before inviting his “friends” to the stage. Those friends happened to be the Obamas who own a house in Martha’s Vineyard.
Michelle Obama first spoke about reaching out to your elders and listening to their stories and their heritage.
“We need to encourage our young people to reach out to our existing elders,” she said. “Instead of taking pictures of your food, you can talk to grandma or great-grandmother and ask them some of those questions.”
She continued to talk about the documentary and what is important for American history. “descendIt reminds us of the power of the stories we have.”
Then President Obama addressed the crowd on why it is vital that the descendants of the Clotilda and their stories are heard.
“This documentary captures an important chapter in our history – one that is too often distorted, forgotten or buried.” He then went on to discuss the subject of the documentary Africatown and why they want to connect with their past.
“For the people of Africatown, this was a story of pain and extraordinary hardship, but also a story of strength, resilience and overcoming.”
Stacey Abrams, Rev. Al Sharpton, and former Atlanta mayor Kesha Lance Bottoms also attended the screening.
descendAnt explores the implications of the Clotilda’s discovery for the descendants, who struggle with their heritage while claiming the power to shape their own destiny, won an American Jury Special Award for Creative Vision at Sundance.