Honor Mama Africa

Last week, I got to do something I haven’t done in years: I went on a field trip. My professor Sean Jacobs managed to get our class, Contemporary Africa, into the welcome reception and opening night screening of the 19th Annual African Film Festival.

Miriam Makeba’s bassists, Sean Jacobs and Bill Salter discussing “Mama Africa” at the 19th Annual African Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Folashade Kornegay.

The festival highlights artistic and cinematic work on and from the African continent and this goal was achieved with Mama Africa. The film is a documentary on the life of Miriam Makeba, a South African singer and civil rights activist who has the nickname “Mama Africa”. The film was directed by Mika Kaurismäki, a Finnish native who fell in love with Makeba’s music in his youth and has expressed that love through amazing cinematography and an honest look at who Miriam Makeba was. It exposes her many different layers and leaves the audience feeling every emotion – sadness, joy, pain, and happiness. In the end, the film inspires us to celebrate her life, legacy, music and activism.

During a discussion with Kelvyn Bell, a jazz musician I met at the reception, he said something very poignant:

This event is beautiful, I love seeing my people get together and it be positive and about culture… but where’s the coverage? Where is BET?

Miriam Makeba

While I don’t expect BET to cover something like the African Film Festival, there is something wrong with jumping to that conclusion. One of the highlights of the film was the way Makeba interacted with people of color in the US and throughout the diaspora. This interaction reflects the common struggle we face. Her multi-cultural band and her marriage to Stokely Carmichael are symbolic of the similarities between the struggle against South African apartheid and the Civil Rights Movement. Though we are separated by an ocean, the connection is there. Miriam Makeba was very aware of this and expressed it through her life and music. The heart of the African Film Festival is to showcase the continent in a more constructive and nuanced light than what is shown in Save the Children commercials. As I continued to work my way through the crowd, I didn’t see any mainstream African American media representation. No Essence, Ebony, Jet or BET.

The event was beautiful. We should continue to honor Mama Africa – both the activist and the continent – by supporting this documentary and sharing information about these types of events.

Though the 19th Annual African Film Festival is wrapping up (April 17th is the last day), I encourage you to spend some time watching their selections on your own.

by Folashade Kornegay

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