The last time Africa was at the heart of such a huge worldwide harvest of film viewing with Africa at the “root” was in the 1970s when Alex Haley’s “Roots” dominated viewership and cultural conversations for months.
Now, it’s “Black Panther,” and in the DMV area, it’s “Black Panther” and much, much more. The “New African Film Festival” just concluded in Silver Spring, Maryland, where 27 films from 20 different African countries were shown over a two-week span.
And dropped right in the midst of that, Howard University’s Cramton Auditorium hosted a standing-room-only screening of a film about Africa as groundbreaking as “Black Panther” — only it is all true. It’s “Footprints of Pan Africanism” by Shirikiana Aina and Haile Gerima, the filmmakers of “Sankofa,” “Through the Door of No Return” and “Teza.”
Winner of the Grand Nile Prize at the Luxor African Film Festival, “Footprints of Pan Africanism” gives the viewer a thrilling sense of the “solidarity that existed between Ghanaians and Africans from the diaspora and the power oozing from that bond,” according to Hakeem Adam of Dandano magazine.
Linking elements of the diaspora is exactly what “Footprints” does.
“You are the descendants” of the African soil, Her Excellency Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao, ambassador to the U.S. from the African Union, told the thousands of viewers. She happily announced that in that regard, the African Union has officially pronounced all Africans living outside the African continent as part of the AU’s “Sixth Region.”
The film depicts heroic characters like Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana, the first post-colonial African head of state, and his ties to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania where he was an undergraduate student; with the Rt. Hon. Marcus Mosiah Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League; with Tuskegee University founder Booker T. Washington; with Ethiopia’s President Haile Selassie; and with Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, among others; all giant figures in the 20th Century Black liberation struggle, in this country and on the Continent.
“Shirikiana Aina uses her film as a didactic tool to remind the people of the present of what could have been, or maybe still can be, should the Pan-African bond be given new life,” Adam said.
“We tried to show the idea that we can create a way for our children,” Aina told the audience after the rapturous ovation for her film ended.
Africans living on the homeland, as well as most ex-patriots, agree that films such as “Footprints” help give Black children and students of all ages “a sense of who are you, where do you come from, and where are you going,” Chihombori-Quao said.
The “Roots” film series captured the hearts and souls of Black people with a riveting, fictionalized, but true story of one Black family ripped from their motherland and cruelly transformed from Africans into “African Americans,” if you will. Black viewers especially were mesmerized by the stories and the characters as they were presented in a dramatic weeklong television series that shattered all previous viewing records for a dramatic TV series. It was a dramatic “wake-up-call” alerting us, who we were and where we came from.
After eight years with a Black president of the United States — Barack Hussein Obama, who wore a strange African name not a name taken from a white slave master —then came “Black Panther,” which colorfully exposed us to a mythical land which was never conquered by white colonialists (like Obama without a “slave name”), and which had superior technology and wealth, and which was ruled by high-guiding principles and leaders with integrity who loved and lived up to those principles.
“Footprints of Pan Africanism,” the film by Shirikiana Aina, conveniently weds our past, using the lives of true African leaders who led the continent out of its colonial past— with the infinite possibilities now in the imaginations of our young.
Seeing is truly believing.