M.V. African American Film Festival previews Aretha Franklin film

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This year’s 19th annual M.V. African American Film Festival had a spectacular start with a preview of “Respect,” the much-anticipated musical biography of the legendary singer, Aretha Franklin, on Friday, July 30. An insightful panel discussion featured South African-American director Leisl Tommy, actor Jennifer Hudson, and a moderator. Director Tommy was the first woman of color to be nominated for the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play. The film festival begins officially on August 6 with a host of not-to-be-missed films and continues through August 14.

“Respect,” with Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson as Franklin, begins with Franklin’s childhood when she sang for her minister father C.L.Franklin (Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker) in his church. After a traumatic experience, Franklin eventually grows up to become an icon in the singing world. The film is filled with songs, sung by Hudson, narrating the ups and downs of Franklin’s career, including her husbands and children and her challenges, as well as her move toward independence from her father and her commitment to the church.

Coming up at the film festival

The full-length feature film, “Memoirs of a Black Girl,” plays on the first day of the full-length festival on Friday, August 6. This film narrates the challenges for a young woman student who is a finalist for the Challenge Prize of the Conrad Scholarship. “The Couch,” which concerns the mental health challenges Black women face, plays on Saturday, August 7. Two series episodes follow. “Through Her Eyes” concerns a psychology major who has worries about a homeless woman with bipolar disorder. In “Almost Enough” Patience Williams suffers from clinical depression, anxiety, and COVID-19.

“Twenty Pearls: The Story of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority” also plays on Saturday, August 7. This film describes the formation by nine Black women of the legendary first Black sorority. A signature Color of Conversation event follows with director Deborah Riley Draper, international president of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Dr. Glenda Gover, and the Honorable Judge Kimberly Esmond Adams. Fionnghuala (Fig) O’Reilly will moderate. She was the 2019 Miss Universe Ireland and has been a correspondent on CBS’s “Mission Unstoppable,” as well as on NASA Datanaut. That night Netflix will host a Color of Conversation with Rebecca Hall, debut director of “Passing.” This film describes how two Black women in 1929 can pass as white but decide differently on which side of the color line to be.

Sunday, August 8, brings “I Promise,” a documentary about LeBron James and his ground-breaking school. That same day, “Summer of Soul,” an insightful documentary about the 1969 Harlem music festival, will screen. A Color of Conversation follows with director Questlove (Ahmir Thompson) and moderator Nwaka Onwusa of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

On Monday, August 9, “Life and Life” recounts the story of musician Reggie Austin after his murder conviction years ago. Also playing that day is “Blood Brother: Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali,” a documentary about these two celebrated figures. A Color of Conversation follows with director Marcus A. Clarke; producer Kenya Barris; Ilyasa Shabazz, Macolm X’s daughter; and Maryum Ali, Muhammad Ali’s daughter.

The schedule for Tuesday, August 10, includes “The Passing On,” about the three professions — preacher, teacher, undertaker — that led Black former slaves out of poverty. Also playing is “Maya and Her Lover,” about a woman and her younger lover. Two films play later on Tuesday. “Betye Saar” is a documentary about the 94-year-old artist who finally earns recognition late in life. “Last Night in Rozzie” concerns a New York lawyer who returns to Boston to reunite a dying friend with the friend’s son.

On Wednesday, August 11, the HBOMax special, “Eyes on the Prize: Hallowed Ground,” pays tribute to the award-winning documentary, “Eyes on the Prize,” by Henry Hampton about the civil rights movement and Black history. A Color of Conversation moderated by Patrisse Cullors includes director Sophia Nahli Allison and executive producers Melina Matsoukas and Dawn Porter. Also playing on Wednesday is “My Name Is Pauli Murray,” concerning the activist attorney responsible for landmark legal action about race and gender equity. Award-winning journalist Tre’vell Anderson will moderate a Color of Conversation with Colorado representative Leslie Herod.

Thursday, August 12, brings “High Risk,” the documentary about minority pregnancies. HBOMax’s “The Legend of the Underground,” about discrimination against gays in Nigeria, follows on Thursday. The Color of Conversation about the film includes directors Giselle Bailey and Nneka Onuorah. After a cocktail reception at Garde East comes “The Death of a Telemarketer.” This film is about the clash between a telemarketer and his mark (target). Also playing on Thursday is “The One and Only Dick Gregory,” about the comedian’s role as an activist. The Color of Conversation discussion following this film includes National Urban League President Marc H. Morial as moderator and director Andre Gaines.

For further information on these films and the rest of the schedule, go to MVAAFF.com