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PS Picks: The American Black Film Festival

PS Picks is a selection of the best things that the magazine's staff and contributors are reading, watching, or otherwise paying attention to in the worlds of art, politics, and culture.

Since its founding in 1997, the annual American Black Film Festival has become one of the largest festivals for black filmmakers and storytellers, with over 10,000 attendees and more than 1,000 narrative feature films, documentaries, and shorts every year. In past years, the festival gave Girls Trip producer Will Packer and Black Panther director Ryan Coogler their start in the industry. Coogler, for instance, showed his student film, Fig, at ABFF in 2011, three years before his first feature-length film, Fruitvale Station, would win top prizes at Sundance and Cannes. And, recently, ABFF launched an annual documentary-film development fund with the goal of producing and showcasing underrepresented stories, voices, and perspectives.

Research shows that efforts by ABFF toward diversifying film are sorely needed. A study released by the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found that black characters made up only 13.6 percent of characters in films in 2017, a number that hasn't shifted significantly for the past 10 years. In 2017, actress Viola Davis told Variety that, "even in fabulous roles, [black characters] are still within the confines of being 'strong,' 'a device,' 'funny.'" In its commitment to provide a platform for black storytellers, the ABFF plays a crucial role in mending the immense lack of diverse representation in Hollywood, on both sides of the camera.

A version of this story originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Pacific Standard. Subscribe now and get eight issues/year or purchase a single copy of the magazine.