Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival started on Friday night with a documentary Descendantby Netflix and Higher Ground Productions Barack and Michelle Obama, and the former president and first lady were surprises at opening night.
Directed by Margaret Brown, Descendantwhich premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, follows members of Africatown, a small community in Alabama who share personal stories and the history of the community as descendants of Clotilda, the last known slave ship that illegally transported people as cargo from Africa to America.
When festival founders Stephanie and Floyd Rance first presented the film, they introduced the director who introduced Oscar-winner Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. He spoke briefly before inviting his “friends” to the stage. Those friends were the Obamas who have a house in Martha’s Vineyard.
Michelle Obama spoke for the first time about reaching out to elders and listening to their stories and heritage.
“We need to encourage our young people to connect with our elders who already exist,” she said. “Instead of taking pictures of your food, maybe talk to your grandma or great-grandmother and ask them some of these questions.”
Then she talked about the documentary and what is important to American history. “descendreminds us of the power of the stories we have ”.
President Obama then spoke to the crowd why it is important for Clotilde’s descendants and their stories to be heard.
“This document contains an important chapter in our history – one that is too often distorted, forgotten or buried.” He then touched on the theme of the documentary Africatown and explained why they want to connect with their past.
“For the people of Africatown, it was a story of pain and extraordinary hardships, but also of strength, resilience and overcoming.”
Stacey Abrams, the Reverend Al Sharpton and former Atlanta Mayor Kesha Lance Bottoms also appeared at the show.
descendt examines the implications of Clotilda’s discovery for descendants who struggle with their heritage, while claiming they have the power to shape their own destiny, they won a special American jury award for Creative Vision at Sundance.