Pan African Festival Connects African Diaspora Through the Arts

More than 100 artisans and 170 films from around the world are being showcased at the 27th Annual Pan African Film & Arts Festival in Los Angeles. 

The multiday event in the largely African American neighborhood of Baldwin Hills aims to connect Africans to people of African descent from around the world.

“As a result of the slave trade and colonization, African people are spread all over the planet, so we get a chance through this festival, get a chance to know each other,” said the festival’s executive director, Ayuko Babu.

Film, fine art, fashion and jewelry with Africa as inspiration are all featured at the festival.

“I never think of us as African American. I think of us as Africans in America, and in coming from that perspective, the ancestral lineage of art and Africa is beyond belief,” said jewelry artist Henry Baba Osageyfo Colby of Timbuktu Art Colony.

Film festival

Filmmakers from around the world, such as Nigerian director and actress Stephanie Linus, also attended the festival.

“Connecting all of us to film that is especially about us and we can see a reflection of ourselves and tell our stories and get a better understanding about where I’m coming from,” said Linus, who presented her movie, Dry, at the festival.

The film is about child marriage and the devastating effects of the practice. It is a social issue in Nigeria that surprised Linus when she first learned about it while attending college.

“I’m like, ‘Oh my God, can you believe that we’re living in the same country? We’re having two totally different experiences.’ We in the south (of Nigeria) are able to go to school, have an education, decide what happens to our bodies, and there’s some people up in the north where they don’t even have those choices.”

Linus has used the power of the media to bring awareness to child marriage, which affects girls around the world.

“I’m happy that people have taken proactive action because we screened the movie in Gambia and a month later, the government banned child marriage in Gambia,” Linus said.

Dialogue and education

One of the main goals of the festival is to create dialogue and education through film and the arts.

“We know there’s profound things happening around the black world, and so this is a way to amplify that make people pay attention,” Babu said.

This year’s festival opened Feb. 7 and runs through Feb. 18.

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Gucci Vows Diversity Hiring After ‘Blackface’ Sweater

Italian fashion house Gucci announced a major push Friday to step up diversity hiring as part of a long-term plan to build cultural awareness at the luxury fashion company following an uproar over an $890 sweater that resembled blackface.

Gucci also said it will hire a global director for diversity and inclusion, a newly created role that will be based in New York, plus five new designers from around the world for its Rome office.

It also will launch multicultural scholarship programs in 10 cities around the world with the goal of building a “more diverse and inclusive workplace on an ongoing basis.”

​Harlem meeting with Dapper Dan

The announcement came after Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri met in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood with Dapper Dan, a well-known African-American designer, and other community members to hear their perspectives.

Dapper Dan, who collaborated with Gucci in 2017 on a menswear line, has emerged as a leading voice demanding accountability from Gucci over the sweater, which was black with a pull-up neck featuring a cutout surrounded by cartoonish red lips.

Bizzarri said Gucci has spent the past days conducting a “thorough review of the circumstances that led to this” and consulting with employees and African-American community leaders on what actions the company should take.

“I am particularly grateful to Dapper Dan for the role he has played in bringing community leaders together to offer us their counsel at this time,” Bizzarri said in statement.

Earlier Friday, Dapper Dan tweeted that the participants at the meeting “made great demands” of Gucci. He said he would announce a town hall meeting in Harlem “for us to talk about what they have proposed.”

In May, Gucci said it will begin conducting annual one-day unconscious-bias training sessions for its 18,000 employees around the world.

Designer scholarships

The design scholarship program will be launched in New York, Kenya’s capital of Nairobi, New Delhi, Beijing, the Chinese city of Hangzhou, Seoul, Tokyo, Beirut, London and Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The company described it as a 12-month fast-track program leading to full-time employment.

Gucci has apologized for the sweater, which creative director Alessandro Michele said was not inspired by blackface but by the late Leigh Bowery, a performance artist, club promoter and fashion designer who often used flamboyant face makeup and costumes.

“I look forward to welcoming new perspectives to my team and together working even harder for Gucci to represent a voice for inclusivity,” Michele said in statement Friday.

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Regina Is Already a King, but What About President?

So, Regina King walked into a 99-cent store. And what’d she get? A prophecy on her life.

No joke. King was shopping around — “sometimes people will say, ‘You at the 99-cent store?’ I like a bargain too” — when a woman walked up to her with something of a prediction.

“She said, ‘You don’t know it but you’re going to run for president.’ And I was like, ‘President of a company?’ She was like, ‘No… of the United States,’” King recalled, adding that she thought the woman was a clairvoyant.

“She said, ‘Close your eyes. You are. I see it,’” King continued. “I was like, ’Girl, I appreciate that but no— that’s not happening. I like my life too much. I like my family too much. I like my friends too much.”

The idea of King, 48, running for presidency isn’t too far-fetched. Rather, it’s not a stretch for people to jokingly ask her to: The seasoned actress is one of the most likable and genial celebrities in the industry, and one fans and peers are constantly rooting for. Remember Taraji P. Henson happily screaming at the top of her lungs when King won her first Emmy in 2015?

King has picked up two more Emmys since — earning acclaim and praise for her riveting roles in John Ridley’s anthology “American Crime” and Netflix’s “Seven Seconds,” where King stunned on-screen as the mother of a son killed by police.

Now King is hitting new heights with her first big screen role since 2010: Her portrayal of a devoted mother in Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk” already won her honors at the Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice Awards. She’s up for best supporting actress at the Academy Awards, pitting her against Oscar winners Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz; Amy Adams, a six-time Oscar nominee; and first-time Marina de Tavira, who co-starred in “Roma.”

″(Regina) has been stalwart in this industry for so long. For a long time, she was doing the work to do the work and I think the industry sort of catches up to wonderful artists like Regina. She shows up and does the work, whether it be in front or behind the camera, and the industry is taking notice,” said Colman Domingo, who plays King’s husband in “Beale Street.” ″I think it’s not only an Oscar nomination for ‘If Beale Street Could Talk,’ I think it’s also for her body of work.”

King called the nomination “extra-special” since it’s her first; the film also is also competing for best adapted screenplay and best original score at the Oscars on Feb. 24.

King has shined on-screen since she appeared on NBC’s “227” in 1985. Her credits include films like “Jerry Maguire,” ″Friday,” ″Ray,” ″Boyz n the Hood,” ″Enemy of the State” and “Miss Congeniality 2.”

But King traded movie roles for TV ones so she could easily raise her son — her regular date at awards show — in Los Angeles: “I wasn’t interested in homeschooling my son.”

“I had the conversation with my team,” she said, “and they felt like TV was going to be the best space for me to live in.”

She landed a starring role in TNT’s “Southland” in 2009, playing Detective Lydia Adams — a part originally not written for a black woman.

“Everyone at the agency had been put on notice, ‘Do not treat Regina King like a black actor. She is an actor,‘” King said. “I hadn’t even quite seen it that way, but that’s what they felt. It kind of started with ‘Legally Blonde 2.’ That was the reach out, like, ‘You know what, why don’t you guys consider Regina King?’”

More TV roles came to her, including “The Big Bang Theory,” ″Shameless,” ″American Crime,” ″The Leftovers” and “Seven Seconds” — all while film stars turned to TV and found success, from Nicole Kidman to Matthew McConaughey to Viola Davis. Even Meryl Streep is heading to the so-called “small screen.”

“I think of myself as a trailblazer for film actors going to television,” King said.

But no matter the screen, King always comes through. She’s known for digging deep into her roles, giving a dramatic, stirring performance that leaves audiences wanting more.

“I’m doing my research. I’m talking to real life people who’ve had these horrific experiences,” King said.

One of the real people was Marion Gray-Hopkins, whose son was killed by police officers. King spoke extensively with Gray-Hopkins as she prepped for “Seven Seconds,” which also earned her a Golden Globe nomination.

While King is usually able to leave the drama on the set, she said it was hard to escape the madness of the TV series.

“I called my son so much (for) just like random things. He couldn’t watch all of ‘Seven Seconds.’ He saw the first episode, and he tried to watch the second. He was like, ‘I can’t.’ He said, ‘It feels like that’s me,’” King said. “And he was like, ’Now I get why you were calling me with just like weird stuff, like, ‘Did you remember to put the clothes in the dryer? I’m like, yeah mom. I put the cleaning towels in the dryer. Did you feed the dog?’ I just wanted to hear his voice.”

King’s son, Ian Alexander Jr., will be by her side at the Academy Awards on Feb. 24 to cheer her on — just like so many others.

“I feel the love,” she said. “I can just be anywhere, from the grocery store to wherever. Sometimes, it’ll be the sweetest thing, I’ll get a woman that’s just like 70, 80-years-old say, ‘Just thank you. Thank you for just representing us.’”

“I’m just living my life and trying to remain a good person and give what I get and remain open so that what I get is good, so that’s what I can put back out. But you’re not thinking about how your walk always effects people that you don’t know,” she added.

But still, she’s not running for president.

“When you make the choice to be in the public’s eye, you are letting go of anonymity. You’re letting go of some things that you want to hold dear and protect. … For a president, that’s on level 9 million,” she said. “I am all here for sacrifices, but not that one.”

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Native American Flutist Shares Authentic Sounds and Stories

These days, Native American Flute Players perform at music festivals across the globe. But few belong to any tribe or nation, something that troubles Darren Thompson, a member of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in northern Wisconsin and an award-winning flutist.

This week, he is performing at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in New York, sharing stories and music that speak to the history, trauma and resilience of the Ojibwe people. And of course, to the instrument itself, which the Ojibwe call “bibigwan.”

“The Native American Flute’ is the name of the instrument, so anybody who picks one up and plays it can call himself a Native American Flute Player,'” said Thompson.

Technically, playing an inauthentic flute violates the U.S. Indian Arts and Crafts Act, passed in 1990 to ban the sale of goods falsely labeled “Native American. But there is nothing to stop non-Native performers from falsely claiming Native American heritage.

“It’s not so much the fact that they are playing the flute that bothers me. It’s the fact that a lot of them are non-Native and try to play the part of a Native, wearing what they think is Indian’ attire. It’s offensive, and it perpetuates the stereotype that Native Americans are still running around as they did in the past,” said Thompson.

‘Singing trees’

Thompson grew up hearing traditional Ojibwe music, but it wasn’t an important part of his life until he left the reservation.

“I went to Marquette University, where there weren’t any other Native kids,” he said. “I was still in Wisconsin, but it was a foreign environment.”

Homesickness led him to the music of Navajo/Ute flutist Raymond Carlos Nakai, which evoked memories of his childhood.

“One of the first stories I ever heard came from the elders, who talked about trees,” Thompson said. “I remember them saying trees sing to us and give us guidance.I think I was four, and that story came to mind 15 years later when I first heard Nakai playing.”

It was then, he said, he understood what the elders had been trying to tell him: Trees do sing — through flutes carved from their wood.

Each flute unique

Thompson bought his first flute from a non-Native vendor at a cultural festival. He taught himself to play, and as he learned, he felt moved to connect to the music of his ancestors — music that preceded government assimilation policies that nearly killed off the Ojibwe language, culture and religious traditions.

“I went out to museums to research actual instruments that were seized 200 years ago and taken into collections,” he said. “Store-bought “Native” flutes are similar in construction, but they are tuned to a minor Western music scale. But an authentic one would be tuned to the maker himself.”

Traditionally, players carved their own instruments from a single piece of wood — cedar, for example, or ash. Each flute would have two chambers, which allowed the player to breathe, Thompson explained. 

No two instruments would have been alike.

“The length of the instrument would be the distance from that person’s armpit to his first knuckle,” he said. “The width would be the same as the width of his thumb. Even the spacing of the finger holes is calibrated to the player’s body.”

The number of open holes carved into the flute varies.Thompson owns several flutes, some he made himself and others custom made. Some have only four holes, which can produce eight notes. Others have five and six holes, allowing for greater range in melody.

The result is a sound unique to each player — a deep and clear tone that Thompson says “touches a lot of people.”

He has wanted to perform at NMAI for at least a decade.

“NMAI has a program called The Art of Storytelling.” My performance is unique, in that I try to reintroduce stories and music from history. Songs I’ve learned that were recorded in the early 1900s, before our culture got erased,” Thompson said.

To hear a sample of Thompson’s work, click below:

The stories don’t just speak to what was lost, but what has survived. And some carry messages that are universal:

“If you take all the four-leggeds, those who walk on all fours, from the Earth, life on Earth would not be able to sustain itself. 

“If you take all the winged ones, those that fly in the sky, life on Earth would not be able to sustain itself.

“If you take away all the plants from the Earth, life on Earth would not be able to sustain itself.

“If you take away all the water, and those that live in water, from the Earth, life on Earth would not be able to sustain itself. 

“If you take away man from the Earth, life on Earth would flourish.”

 

 

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Hopes High Before Kenya Ruling on Decriminalizing Gay Sex

Members of Kenya’s LGBT community are looking forward to a High Court ruling that might decriminalize gay sex. The impending ruling is raising hopes among LGBT persons across the region.

South of Nairobi, in a remote town, models are in training in a safe house tucked in a quiet neighborhood. These are not just any models. These are LGBT refugees from Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda.

Most fled persecution from their home countries because of their sexual orientation.

Lubega Musa, 27, fled to Kenya in 2015. He, together with other LGBT refugees, started an economic empowerment program called Lunco Haute Cotoure, whose activities focus on fashion, design and music.

“There are things we would love to do as Lunco Houte Cotoure for the gay community openly, but we cannot do them because of the law,” Musa said. “So, if there is change in the law, if same-sex becomes legal in Kenya, we as artists, we work with the gay community. The situation will be much better for us to exhibit our talent, and you know the LGBT community is one that is most talented in the arts.”

 

WATCH: Kenya High Court Ruling on Decriminalizing Gay Sex Awaited 

High Court ruling

Kenya’s High Court will rule this month on whether to repeal Section 162 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes gay sex.

In Kenya, one can be sentenced to up to 14 years for violating the law.

Activists say the case is a milestone in the fight for LGBT rights in the region.

“This is an opportunity for LGBTI people to claim their spaces,” said Brian Macharia, a gay rights activist. “Whether we win this case or not, there is visibility that is coming by the fact that we managed to get this far at the courts, that we got a lot of Kenyans thinking and talking about this.”

Homophobic attacks are common in Kenya, as a majority of the population objects to homosexuality.

​Too soon, some say

Charles Kanjama, the lead lawyer representing the Kenya Christian Professionals Forum in the case, says Kenya is not ready to accept homosexuality.

“We think that it is in the interest of our country, as do most other Africans in this continent in which we live, to outlaw homosexuality. That is gay sex in particular, and any manifestations as promotion or propagandizing in favor of gay sex, so that we can try as much as possible to encourage and promote healthy sexual behavior,” he said.

Activists in Africa and elsewhere are campaigning against penal codes that criminalize gay sex, most of which date from the colonial period.

The laws in many countries are being overturned. India scrapped them last year. Angola in January.

Kenya might do it in a matter of weeks.

However the High Court rules, both sides are likely to appeal to the Supreme Court if they lose.

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First Lady Makes Valentine’s Day Art With Pediatric Patients

Melania Trump gave some love to her new city during a Valentine’s Day arts-and-crafts session with pediatric patients Thursday.

At a station where the children wrote their “favorite things” on construction paper hearts, the first lady went with “My favorite city is Washington.” She signed the heart with her name and stuck it on a board on a wall in the middle of several other hearts.

During the visit to The Children’s Inn on the campus of the National Institutes of Health outside Washington, she also helped make candy boxes — and assisted a line of children in filling them up with a variety of sugary treats — and snow globes.

Amani, a 13-year-old boy from Mombasa, Kenya, was responsible for showing her how to turn a wooden clothespin into a colorful clip.

“This is a big project,” Trump said during the tutorial. Amani has sickle cell disease and is preparing for a bone marrow transplant with marrow donated by his sister, the White House said. The first lady told Amani that she will pray for him. He presented her with a red heart-shaped box that held a silver necklace with “Hope & Faith” inscribed on a silver circle.

He also gave the first lady a bouquet of white roses.

The Children’s Inn is a private, nonprofit residence for children and families participating in pediatric research at NIH. The first lady was at the inn on Valentine’s Day last year when she was informed by her staff of a shooting at a south Florida high school that killed 17 people.

She was greeted Thursday by Amber, 9, of San Jose, California. Amber, who participates in a gene therapy trial, was among the children with whom Mrs. Trump spent time during last year’s visit.

Trump is focusing her work as first lady on the well-being of children.

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Uganda’s Tourism Minister Sparks Controversy over Curvy Women Contest

Uganda’s junior minister for tourism this month sparked controversy by suggesting that curvy women could be promoted as a tourist attraction. Uganda earns billions of dollars off of wildlife tourism but, the idea of adding women to that list has generated heated debate about objectifying women.

Ann Mungoma was a judge at two pageants that showed that being slim should not be equated with beauty  — Ms. Curvy Africa 2016 and Ms. Curvy Nigeria 2017.

 

“So, here we are giving a chance to the ladies and telling them, please, you’re most welcome,” she said. “God created you that way, bless him for the way you are shaped, your size, come, we are giving you a platform to show the world that this is how we are. This is how Ugandan ladies are designed.”

 

But Mungoma’s plan to bring the well-rounded contest to Uganda this year has — well — hit a curve.

 

Godfrey Kiwanda, Uganda’s junior minister for tourism, sparked debate at the pageant’s launch. He said curvy women should be counted among the country’s tourist attractions — such as wildlife.

Kiwanda said Uganda’s tourism industry is facing stiff competition and should diversify.

 

“Tourism is not just about animals, it’s about our food, the way we walk, the way we were created, our curves,” he said.

Uganda’s women’s rights activists called Kiwanda’s objectifying women’s bodies a gross insult.

 

Some called for the Ms. Curvy Uganda beauty pageant to be cancelled.

 

Rita Aciro, the executive director of the Uganda Women’s Network, has been fighting for women and girl’s rights for the last 18 years.

 

She demanded the junior tourism minister apologize.

 

“He should stop using women’s bodies as sex objects. We are not. Not Ugandan women, not any African woman, not any woman in the world,” she said. “Our bodies are not sex objects. We have equal brains, we have equal abilities, we just need equal opportunities.”

 

In the media and on the streets of Kampala, Ugandans had mixed views on the controversy and if the curvy contest should continue.

 

Some insulted women who would take part in the beauty pageant while others defended them.

 

University student Georgia Nakyonza said she would join the contest if she qualified. 

 

“It’s not bad, it doesn’t mean that if you go for Miss curvy you are a protest, you are selling off your body. Actually, the way they put on is just the way models put on,” she said.

 

Uganda’s Tourism Board has distanced itself from the Ms. Curvy pageant, saying it will concentrate instead on promoting the country’s current attractions.

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Donald Glover Gets 5 Nominations for NAACP Image Awards

Coming off a big night at the Grammys, Donald Glover and his alter-ego Childish Gambino have been nominated for five NAACP Image Awards.

Glover is nominated for his acting and directing on “Atlanta,” and Childish Gambino got three nominations on the music side. Glover won four Grammy Awards including record and song of the year on Sunday night.

The nominees were announced Wednesday at the Television Critics Association winter meeting in Pasadena, Calif.

“Black Panther” was nominated for 14 awards, with star Chadwick Boseman and director Ryan Coogler nominated for entertainer of the year along with Beyonce, LeBron James and Regina King.

The 50th NAACP Image Awards honoring entertainers and writers of color will be held March 30 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood and aired live on TV One.

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Michelle Obama’s Grammy Appearance Did Not Impress Mom

It appears Michelle Obama received a reality check from her mom following her appearance at the Grammys.

The former first lady took to Instagram Wednesday to share a text exchange with mom Marian Robinson. Obama had received a standing ovation opening Sunday’s awards show with Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Jada Pinkett Smith.

Robinson wrote: “I guess you were a hit at the Grammys.” Her daughter asked mom if she had watched. Mom replied she saw it and then asked if her daughter had met “any of the real stars.”

Mother and daughter then quibbled over whether Obama had told her she would be on.

Obama ended the exchange by writing “And I AM A real star…by the way…”

Her mother replied, “Yeah.”

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