This report covers the 10th edition of BlackStar Film Festival (BSFF), which took place virtually and in person over a week in early August 2021. The independent festival features work by Black, Brown and Indigenous makers, and aims to reach a wide audience whose identities and experiences are reflected in the films. Johnson considers the multifaceted symbolism of the Black Star as it is realized in the curatorial and institutional vision of the festival, and considers the affordances (and limitations) of virtuality toward greater distribution of, and access to, independent films in the places they represent. An extensive review of the shorts program includes reporting on category winners Lizard (Akinola Davies Jr), Dear Philadelphia (Renee Maria Osubu) and Elena (Michèle Stephenson). This is the first review of BSFF for Film Quarterly.

The 2021 BlackStar Film Festival actually began for me in July with a conversation with the festival director (and now the executive director of the recently established BlackStar Projects), Maori Karmael Holmes, in which she meditated on that name, BlackStar, which so vividly and all at once recalls half a millennium of imperial history and the principles of the counterhistory of resistance to it: anti-imperialism, anti-racism, solidarity, and the liberatory power of imagination. It is also a name that encapsulates the values, praxes, and programming of this exceptional festival, which far exceeds its tokenization as the “Black Sundance.”1

The meaning is multiple: from the Black Star of Africa adorning flags and monuments celebrating freedom across the continent, to Holmes’s musings on “film as an art of light, thinking about Black bodies being treated by this light, presented in front of this light,” to the symbol of Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line, the shipping line that was the once-real, now-symbolic political project of return and reconnection. It is especially through Garvey’s vision that I connect the many parts of this tenth anniversary, the beginning of a new cycle on so many registers: from the eclectic selection of films, to a hugely expanded community of makers and audiences afforded by its virtual presentation, to the celebrations of lineage and the life and work of ancestors that underlie Black, Brown, and Indigenous cultural production.

Facing another year of pandemic uncertainty while also recognizing the particular accessibility enabled by virtuality, Holmes staged BlackStar 2021 as an online event for a second consecutive year. While this year’s festival included one day of outdoor, in-person screenings and activities at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, I attended virtually, from a warm bed in a cold apartment in Cape Town, South Africa. Partnering with Eventive, the festival built a site and an app that were beautiful and easy to navigate.2 With the website live—and trailers embedded where available—well in advance of the festival, I had a generous amount of time to choose and schedule my watch list. Extended screening times and the practice of posting and archiving all talks on the festival’s social-media platforms made it relatively easy for a viewer from afar to watch almost double what would have been possible in person.3

While the platforms were an improvement over last year’s edition, there were still problems that virtuality made frustrating to resolve. For example, at least two films—Between Fire and Water (Viviana Gómez Echeverry and Anton Wenzel, 2020) and Faya Dayi (Jessica Beshir, 2021)—were missing subtitles, and the process for reporting and resolving technical problems sent viewers into a loop between Eventive and BlackStar help lines. Also, a number of features were geoblocked for my location, and while I understand the concerns of makers with films on the market, I was especially disappointed to miss Beans (Tracey Deer, 2020), which would go on to win the Audience Award for the Best Feature Narrative, and Their Algeria (Lina Soualem, 2020). The lockout served as a reminder that there is still work to be done in navigating the wonderful wave of independent filmmaking in the Global South through the problems of distribution at a global level.

While the documentary of the season, Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh’s Writing with Fire (2021), took the jury and audience awards for its category, BlackStar is all about the shorts, and that’s where this report is focused.4 This year, BlackStar was certified as a qualifying festival for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ shorts program—a significant marker of the festival’s increasing status. The development made the narrative film Lizard (Akinola Davies Jr, 2020) and the documentaries Dear Philadelphia (Renee Maria Osubu, 2020) and Elena (Michèle Stephenson, 2021) eligible for the Oscar race.5

Lizard is a much-needed and scathing critique of the coloniality of African megachurches led by pastors whose lavish lifestyles are funded by what one can only assume are the tithes of working-poor congregants falsely taken in by their leaders’ prosperity gospel. In it, a child who dares to be inquisitive in Sunday school is kicked out of class and spends the day walking around the grounds of the church, witnessing the immoral behavior of the adults who police and punish the child’s curiosity. The child also witnesses a giant lizard, in an absurd moment that only heightens the absurdity of these deeply unethical institutions. For Davies, the film was made to honor the childhood of those whose experiences were rendered invalid. The intention certainly comes through in the attentive portraits of the child played by Pamilerin Ayodeji, who gave a stunning, mostly nonverbal performance.

Dear Philadelphia follows the lives of three fathers led by deep faith and hope as they navigate life in the face of the violence and underdevelopment of North Philadelphia. It is a heartwarming story realized in a tapestry of soft portraits cemented by a rich aesthetic practice that includes warm grayscale filters on its contemporary footage interspersed with archival footage in original color (almost reversing normative associations that would place black-and-white footage in the past); temporal distortions of the original footage, which yielded slowed-down moments of affection throughout the piece, are especially poignant.

Energizing these slow, dreamlike moments is footage that captures Black men riding horses and displaying tricks on all-terrain vehicles across the city. Both practices, with the latter being something of an outgrowth of the former (although they exist concurrently today), are iconic in Philadelphia, and have become important spaces of refuge for young Black people to develop life skills and forge meaningful community. These practices should be regarded as expressions of the freedom to move, to take up space, and to be seen in a place that reduces Black men in particular to one-dimensional criminal entities. Their placement alongside softer displays of touch and play gives a roundness that proclaims the film a love letter to family, community, and the city—one that will inspire nostalgia in anyone who has ever learned to love Philadelphia.

Pamilerin Ayodeji (Juwon) and Halimat Olanrewaju (Dele) in Lizard. Courtesy of the BBC and Potboiler Productions Ltd.

Pamilerin Ayodeji (Juwon) and Halimat Olanrewaju (Dele) in Lizard. Courtesy of the BBC and Potboiler Productions Ltd.

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While undeniably beautiful, the film falls a little short in its narrative clarity. Its story seems to start in the middle, and is likely to leave those audiences unacquainted with Philadelphia aching for more information to establish the background of its various threads and the particular connections between them. Still, it was selected as the Vimeo Staff Pick for its celebration of Black life and love “in a time filled with continual Black grief”—a prize with a platform that ensures the film’s availability to move audiences for years to come.6

Elena, named for the remarkable woman at the center of this story, attends to a long history of anti-Black racism in the Dominican Republic. Quickly and clearly establishing the film’s focus—that in 2013, the state stripped two hundred thousand people of citizenship—within the longer histories of the deplorable treatment of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent in the country, the film elects to follow Elena. Ironically, despite the context, she epitomizes active citizenship: she attends university, participates in youth organizing programs, generously engages friends and strangers in political discourse, and deals with the paperwork of those in her communities who have been made stateless.

Elena exposes the immense mundanity of racist governance—and the exhaustion produced by navigating it—where exclusion is managed, more than anything, by bureaucracy and its gatekeepers. In doing so, it powerfully engages with the difficult question of how coloniality and its expression in anti-Black racism can be understood and challenged when they are reproduced largely in the absence of white people. This dynamic is, in fact, a common social phenomenon that cannot be fully accounted for by the kinds of US-centric binary analytic models that continue to dominate discourse on race and racism globally.

Urban horseback riders in Dear Philadelphia. Courtesy of Renee Maria Osubu.

Urban horseback riders in Dear Philadelphia. Courtesy of Renee Maria Osubu.

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Elena, the courageous protagonist of the documentary Elena. Courtesy of Rada Studio.

Elena, the courageous protagonist of the documentary Elena. Courtesy of Rada Studio.

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Elena’s engagement with the spaces between race and nationality is astute. With precision, it reveals how xenophobia (the racism that hides behind national sovereignty as if the latter were a neutral matter of fact and not itself a child of imperialism) is weaponized in support of anti-Black legislation and governmental practice, made more palatable with a small rhetorical turn from the language of race to that of citizenship. It is a difficult analysis to make, precisely because of how race is folded into a rhetoric imbued with its own ahistorical mythology, but one that Michèle Stephenson got at exceptionally well. Her points were made fundamentally clear to the audience, not through explanatory text or narration (there was very little of either) but rather in Elena’s courageous willingness to speak with people who may not even recognize her as fully human. Elena’s almost journalistic capture of these moments as they took place elevated it to a position as perhaps my favorite of the entire documentary program.

No Entry (Kaleb D’Aguilar, 2021) offers up something of an oceanic mirror to Elena. The narrative short tells of the paranoid daily life of Valerie Powell (Susan Aderin) as she tries desperately to confirm her status as a native-born British citizen while worryingly single-parenting a son whose harming experiences she can no longer shield him from. The story—spoiler alert—doesn’t end happily.

Valerie represents the dozens of very real British people of Caribbean descent who were deported from the United Kingdom, and the many many more whose citizenship (and thus access to jobs and social services, even residency) was revoked during the Windrush scandal of 2018. Archive—in the form of paperwork, certificates, photographs—appears all over the filmic world of this piece, an introduction in a sense to the surveillance of Black British life in the present. More deeply, the archival elements encourage No Entry’s audience to interrogate the historical context of the scandal. Following World War II and facing the sun finally setting on the British Empire, England—in one of its multitude of strategies to gain industrial dominance—essentially reversed the course of the Atlantic crossing, bringing citizens of the growing Commonwealth to supply the labor force for the mother country’s postwar boom, under the pretense that these migrants would join the nation as equal subjects. Seven decades later, the reversal is chilling.

This desire to transform rather than yield British power through and after decolonization is the mostly unnamed but certainly implied complex backdrop of two wonderful process pieces—one attending to nationalist Indian history, the other unpacking the early British occupation of Palestine.

Letter from Your Far-Off Country (Suneil Sanzgiri, 2020) is an essay film built from 16mm original footage shot in Delhi, along with a range of audio and visual archival sources. While the piece operates at a level of abstraction that demands multiple viewings and some understanding of the sociopolitical world out of which it emerges, it is organized around and consistently returns to the narrative frame of the letter to which the title refers.

On the one hand, Letter is a collage of reflections on the complex intersection of religion, class, and coloniality that has shaped India’s caste system to the present. By drawing from the intellectual, creative, and political work of Muslims and Dalits, Sanzgiri both points to a history of casteism and undermines the logics that lead religious minorities and people of low caste to be seen as less than human. The other side of Sanzgiri’s reflection attends to questions of diasporic identity (especially for the second or third generation) and connection and responsibility to the homeland.

One of the many collages in Letter from Your Far-Off Country. Courtesy of Suneil Sanzgiri.

One of the many collages in Letter from Your Far-Off Country. Courtesy of Suneil Sanzgiri.

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Letter offers an unusual approach to the theme of diaspora, which typically gets a lot of screen time at BlackStar, more often in “struggle for the American dream” approaches. On the level of craft and aesthetics, there is almost too much to write about Letter, as its digital reconstructions of landscapes and urban spaces are a compelling way to move the viewer through faraway space, while the picture-in-picture collages of B. R. Ambedkar (“Babasaheb”) are breathtaking. Letter from Your Far-Off Country is well deserving of its award for Best Experimental Film.

The Silent Protest: 1929 Jerusalem (Mahasen Nasser-Eldin, 2019) tells of the formation of the Arab Women’s Congress and the protest against British colonial occupation in Palestine that inaugurated this movement. Finding detailed information on this event and the earliest years of women’s organizing in Palestine is quite difficult, in English at least, and it seems that working through the challenge of the underrepresentation of women in this history is fundamentally what is at stake in this film.

Like Letter, The Silent Protest works to historically locate the present juncture. Here, its complexity is set up and held by the integration of archival text spoken by a narrator, images of Jerusalem at the turn of the century, quotidian footage of the contemporary carceral city, footage that shows processes of researching the historical event, and finally, shots of young women walking in single file in a contemporary performative commemoration of the event.

The Silent Protest communicates two important concepts really well. First—and intriguingly, the third example of a British colonial focus within the BlackStar program—it shows a clear relationship between nineteenth- and twentieth-century British imperialism and the Israeli occupation of the present—a link that is not made nearly enough in popular analyses of this crisis. Second, it elects to move away from typical news footage of the shooting and bombing of civilians, instead showing the daily carcerality of life under the surveillance of the Israeli military state in Palestine. Mahasen Nasser-Eldin’s somatic and sensorily rich approaches to memory and memorialization here are striking—from the footage of women walking that weaves through the film’s explanatory time line to the sound of gravel crunching underfoot that ends the work and the nondiegetic quiet that predominates throughout.

On this question of how to remember, or how to approach memory outside of the historical record in which Black, Brown, and Indigenous people tend to show up as property, as prisoners, as extinct, Naima Ramos-Chapman’s In Place of Monuments (2020) is wonderful. In it, the filmmaker returns to a New York City rooftop where, at fifteen, she had been arrested at gunpoint. She takes on the traumatic memory of the space through a stunning somatic ritual that in its fluid presence resists the often-grating temporal and timbral intensity of the score. Ramos-Chapman narrates the piece as if she were recalling the story of her arrest to a friend. Footage shown in an epilogue would have been stronger if woven into the film proper. However, the simplicity of the construction of the film is very likely the basis of its success.

The opposite—that is, the problem of doing too much—characterizes a film that is also thinking about the restorative memorialization of lives lost to gun violence. Between Starshine & Clay (brontë velez & Mer Aldao, 2021) is framed by documentary footage of a ceremony in remembrance of Oscar Grant, who famously was twenty-two when he was shot and killed by transit-police officer Johannes Mehserle on a Bay Area Rapid Transit platform in 2009. In the ceremony, guns are melted down and re-formed into a public sculpture that supposedly replicates the night sky as it appeared on the night of Grant’s death. The middle sections of the piece show rituals of cleansing and healing in natural spaces presumably in or near the site of this sculpture, but these details are not explicated in the film.

While many of its parts work well—in particular, its magnificent portraits of women moving together in rituals engaging the land and the sea—it is difficult to make narrative sense of Between Starshine. The temporal relationship between the two sets of footage (that is, whether the rituals in nature were actually part of, and precedent to, the framing event or are intended as reflections on the event after the fact) and the stories of the people the monument commemorates are almost nonexistent in the film. Without research into Grant and the Lead to Life organization, the film is held together only insofar as it refers to the kinds of police violence that have been foregrounded in popular struggle against white supremacy in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in summer 2020.

An overattention to aesthetics at the expense of cohesive, thoughtful, convincing writing and editing was disappointingly apparent in a number of films at this year’s festival. This trait was, unfortunately, especially true of the films nominated for the Lionsgate/Starz Award for Best Speculative Fiction. The only truly innovative, clearly articulated work of the set is the experimental documentary The Door of Return (Anna Zhukovets and Kokutekeleza Musebeni). It is the year 2440, and a futuristic people from a post-oppressive plane are sent back in time to support movements of Black consciousness in contemporary Germany, where the film’s quite traditional sitting-head documentary sections are set. The Door doesn’t deal with this future imaginary in much depth, and the two worlds barely meet. While these speculative-fiction sections work well as a rhetorical strategy, the overall film felt like a misfit in this part of the program.

Victoria A. Villier as Norra in the Afrofuturist thriller, Inheritance. Courtesy of Annalise Lockhart.

Victoria A. Villier as Norra in the Afrofuturist thriller, Inheritance. Courtesy of Annalise Lockhart.

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Annalise Lockhart’s Inheritance (2021), which won the section award, and Jahmil Eady’s Heartland (2021) were both exceptionally well executed, and very watchable, but were so reminiscent of Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017) and the Amazon series Upload (Greg Daniels, 2020), respectively, that it became almost impossible to watch them on their own terms.

Nevertheless, Inheritance scared me to the edge of my seat. In it, the protagonist, upon turning twenty-five, begins to see ghosts around the family home that have been haunting her father and brother for years. Lockhart succeeds in producing such affective responses in the audience that, even at a virtual distance, the sense of being watched by these spirits was skin-crawlingly palpable. Its affective capacity was matched by The Future Isn’t What It Used to Be (Adeyemi Michael, 2021), in which the sense of terror, isolation, desperation, and paranoia experienced by characters in a postapocalyptic environment is immediately and consistently available to the viewer: I felt myself slowly curling into a protective ball as the piece developed.

Where Inheritance was generically sound, The Future Isn’t What It Used to Be lacked the basic building blocks for its story. It wasn’t clear where its action was taking place, how the characters knew the building in which most of the film was set, what exactly the building was or might have been—not even if they knew or didn’t know one another or what could have happened to land them in these stark conditions. For the genre of speculative fiction, with its space for world making and forgiveness of narrative inconsistency, much more is expected.

Meditations on the apocalyptic extended beyond the bounds of speculative fiction in the program. Totems (Justin Deegan, 2019), whose apocalyptic “after” is today’s United States as Indigenous people are forced to face it, is illustrative of a broader turn inward. A play on Freud’s most famous psychoanalytic model, the film realizes the id and the ego as two distinct characters, both Indigenous men, who have an almost ridiculous encounter and consequent conversation that slowly reveals layers of generational trauma, loss, belonging, and life and breath under conditions that subject them to extinction. Set in an industrial part of an unidentified city and narratively organized around the borrowing of a smartphone, this work offered a generous insight into Indigenous interiority.

In Totems, Deegan offers a stark contrast to the irritatingly tear-jerking struggle-to-redemption films through which these identities are often reductively explored. However, the issue films Vaka (Kelly Moneymaker, 2019) and Strength (Jorge Díaz Sánchez, 2021) were examples of just such an orientation. Both are constructed, perhaps unintentionally, to center salvation in assimilation and capitalist participation as the aspirational end of struggle—a choice apt to produce a visceral distaste in viewers alienated by that formula.

In terms of interiority, The Trucker (Raven Johnson, 2021), There Was Nobody Here We Knew (Khaula Malik, 2021), and Rejoice Resist (Elisha Smith-Leverock, 2020) introduced the viewer to the incredible variegation of Black and Brown experience in the United States, something that tends to be lost in the (sometimes necessary and strategic) essentialization of identities.

Set in South Dakota, The Trucker is a narrative portrait of a day or two in the life of a Liberian immigrant long-distance truck driver who, on one end of his journey, gambles and has a local white girlfriend (revealed later as a long-term transactional affair), and on the other has a seemingly happy and morally grounded family. Placing this story in the mundane everyday, where analogous TV dramas from English-language African television dramas would more likely employ outrageous and/or supernatural plots, puts the trucker’s experience in a realm of possibility that the audience can actually imagine. In doing so, some of the more awkward exchanges with the small-town, all-white acquaintances produce an empathic discomfort in the viewer that makes an ordinary story feel really fresh.

There Was Nobody Here We Knew is a beautiful ode to the sacrifices of immigrant parents, a meditation on the term “alien,” and a moving example of the grappling with life and its meanings that emerged for so many out of the collective terror of the COVID-19 pandemic. Khaula Malik tenderly captures her parents’ real obsession with an aerial phenomenon they observe from their apartment window during lockdown. She generously places this footage in relief through scenes in which her family shares their memories—of the isolation and alienation of emigration and of the curious strangeness of their adopted country. Big sections of the film are sourced from a family Zoom Rooms recording, which serves as a wonderful archive of this epoch of virtual relationality and offers hope that more such “COVID films” will debut in the coming months.

I watched Rejoice Resist two or three times for the giant dopamine kick. Without ignoring the violent reality of being Black under white supremacy, Elisha Smith-Leverock invites the viewer into a Black woman’s imagination, where joy and celebration pour out of a screen bursting with visual pleasures. The playfulness that underlies the increasingly surreal sets and exchanges is a welcome counter to the usual struggling narrative figuration of Black women.

Similarly, Heaven Reaches Down to Earth (Tebogo Malebogo, 2020) offered a welcome counter to portrayals of queer self-actualization that locate it as emerging from violent masculinity and social rejection. This is not to say that that is not a reality for queer people! In societies like South Africa, the setting of this film, with a patriarchal structure that would be unfathomable to the liberal imagination, the state of being a woman and being queer is to be a near constant target of sexual violence and murder.

Heaven takes place in precisely this conjuncture. But, instead of simplistically depicting violence and the reductive shaming of non-Western traditions—as John Trengove’s The Wound (2017) does—Tebogo Malebogo plays on “going to the mountain,” the colloquial term for an initiation practice that culminates in ritual circumcision. Heaven treats the turn of phrase literally: its characters Tau and Tumi go on a hike and, in the isolation of the mountains, under cover of night, appear to work through the connections and tensions of realizing self in the company of others. Their relationship is vaguely intimate, its visual language saturated with sex and the majestic as their bodies glisten in water and sweat, their skin warm in the glow of fire against the night’s darkness, but the erotic tension is never resolved. By honoring the exciting and scary inner workings of (especially marginal) sexual identity, Heaven genuinely reignited my interest in independent film from my homeland.

Thapelo Maropefela (Tumelo) and Sizo Mahlangu (Tau) head for the mountains in Heaven Reaches Down to Earth. Courtesy of Tebogo Malebogo.

Thapelo Maropefela (Tumelo) and Sizo Mahlangu (Tau) head for the mountains in Heaven Reaches Down to Earth. Courtesy of Tebogo Malebogo.

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There are many wonderful films that a lack of space makes it impossible to describe here adequately. Arie and Chuko Esiri’s Eyimofe (This Is My Desire, 2020) holds contemporary Europe, and its self-promotion as the tolerant liberal ideal, to account. With almost static cinematography, the Esiri brothers honor one of the most special conventions of African filmmaking: the public-private space of the courtyard. Gales (Ingred Prince & Tshay, 2020) had some of the most convincingly written characters of any festival film, and the energy between its leads was palpable. The Beauty President (Whitney Skauge, 2021) beautifully upholds the hysterically funny radical political work of Terence Smith’s drag persona, Joan Jett Blakk.

BlackStar’s curating continues to pay off for its audiences with multiple discoveries. Any summation of this year’s, or any year’s, BlackStar Film Festival, though, has to be about far more than film. There were films I had no interest in seeing, or found formally underwhelming, that nevertheless went on to become audience-award winners. Sometimes the stories people need to tell and hear are packaged in works that don’t meet a critic’s or scholar’s normative requirements of a “good film.” I came into the world of filmmaking through community media, under the instruction of Louis Massiah, who insists that makers clarify and work with their “authenticating audience” in mind, and that this base should be supported and not overwhelmed by aesthetics. He has written that “when art is understood as a mode of political work, with the explicit goal of communicating a needed counter-narrative or analysis to a disempowered people, the success of an art work is more appropriately determined by how the community of focus is affected by the message. If the work succeeds in positively affecting this audience, then it succeeds and is authenticated.”7

Massiah reminds makers that the filmic medium is a vessel for stories that are aching to be told. My concerns about craft, then, may be of little utility in the face of the politically and socially profound declarations of “by us, for us” that saturate this program. As BlackStar gains industry clout, I hope it continues to take its commitment to community, and to these genuine representations of Black, Brown, and Indigenous histories, seriously. There are contradictions inherent in its enterprise that deserve to be preserved.

For a long time, I believed that BlackStar’s prioritization of concerns that exceed the object “film” had to do with place, that it was an orientation imbued with the distinct cultural politics of Philadelphia. In some ways, this has to be true: BlackStar was born, at least in part, out of Holmes’s own training, experience, and networks in Philadelphia’s independent-media industry. But as she explained to me, it is instead the people (many from Philadelphia or based there, yes, but many more who are not) who have come to BlackStar—Gretjen Clausing, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Louis Massiah, Tina Morton, Michelle Parkerson, and many more—and all the lineages that converge there that make this festival so special.

In this regard, the posthumous bestowing of the Richard Nichols Luminary Award upon Menelik Shabazz (1954–2001) takes on new weight. Shabazz’s iconic first feature, Burning an Illusion (1981), should be seen as the seed that flourished into the incredible blossoming of Black British film, whose many examples screened at the festival. In remembering Shabazz, I am reminded that the work does not stop with making Black films, that one must continue to expand their distribution—and write about them, too. Menelik Shabazz began his life in Barbados, built his legacy in England, and died—working until the end—in Zimbabwe. I hope that this report reads as an expression of gratitude to the spaces that he opened up.

To seal the symbolic power of this journey, I return to Marcus Garvey: there is a small textual detail that adorned advertisements for the SS Phyllis Wheatley that reclaims the humanity of those making an Atlantic crossing: “Black Star Line. Passengers and Freight.”8 Along these routes that brought African people to the Americas, where they were enslaved and worked to death, on these ships where the human was stripped to become cargo, how important and how profound are the retracings of these aqueous paths, the humans now not property but passengers. To connect and create space for the representation of the oppressed of the world on their own terms is to recuperate this passenger, and to extend the symbolism of this representation to the different but intersecting subjectivity of Black, Brown, Indigenous people in the afterlives of colonialism. In this prolonged moment of heightened virtuality, shorn of the touch and palpable spirit of others, the commercial failure of Garvey’s Black Star Line becomes irrelevant. In the respite from social death that the BlackStar Film Festival curates with greater nuance and accountability every year, there is a brilliant future.


Maori Karmael Holmes, Zoom conversation with author, July 15, 2021. Transcriptions of this discussion are my own.


With some exceptions, one was able to start a program within twenty-four hours of its screening time, and then had twenty-four hours for viewing. With a few calculations, and alarms with reminders to start programs toward the end of the screening window, I effectively had two days to get through each program.


B. Ruby Rich reports on Between Fire and Water in her article “Sundance on Your Couch,” Film Quarterly 74, no. 4 (Summer 2021): 75–82.


For a full list of awards, see “BlackStar Film Festival Announces Winners for 10th Annual Festival,” BlackStar News, August 9, 2021,


See Jeffrey Bowers, “Staff Pick Award at BlackStar Film Festival: ‘Dear Philadelphia’ by Renee Osubu,” Vimeo Blog, August 6, 2021,


See Louis Massiah, “The Authenticating Audience,” Feminist Wire, November 18, 2014,


See a reproduction of this advertisement in W. E. B. Du Bois, “The Black Star Line,” The Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races 24, no. 5 (September 1922): 212.