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Film Festival Focuses on Women in Civil Rights Movement

The new dates are not the only changes for the upcoming 2019 March on Washington Film Festival, which formerly took place in the heat of summer but now has switched to a more temperate time period.

The multi-venue film festival runs this year from Sept. 22-29 with a wide range of films to be screened in multiple locations around the city, with most being held at the Jack Morton Auditorium on the campus of George Washington University. Other related events will be held around the city at different locales including the National Museum of Women in the Arts, National Cathedral, National Portrait Gallery, New York University-District of Columbia and Eaton DC, which will host a series of rooftop, late night performances.

Leading up to the 100th anniversary of the Women’s Suffrage Movement’s victory on the ratification of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, this year’s festival focuses on women of the civil rights movement and the critical roles they played.

“This is the 100-year anniversary of the women’s suffragist movement,” said Samantha Abrams, executive director of the festival. “Our mission at the festival is to tell stories of the civil rights era and the decades leading up to it and connect that to what is happening today.

“What we know is women continue to be drivers of significant change in all sectors,” Abrams said. “We wanted to tell the stories of Black women and women of color who single-handedly shifted and impacted the future of sports, politics, education, corporate, leadership and more. We have a responsibility to tell their stories and honor them.”

Some of the offerings that spotlight that pivotal role are “Delores,” a documentary that tells the story of Delores Huerta, who worked alongside Cesar Chavez to unionize farmworkers, and “Althea,” about tennis player Althea Gibson, a forerunner to present-day tennis stars like the Williams sisters, Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff. Gibson was an outspoken critic of the highly segregated world of 1950s professional tennis world.

If you missed some of the earlier screenings, a 1972 Aretha Franklin concert is the subject of the film “Amazing Grace: Aretha Franklin,” which will be shown at the Washington National Cathedral.

A program of vintage short films, “Sisters that Swing,” presented by music historian Stuart Hudgins, illustrates the work of famous African-American women who contributed to the movement through their musicality such as Bessie Smith, Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday and Mahalia Jackson.

Other highlights include non-film programs such as the Vivian Malone Award, which will be given to Rep. Lucy McBath, mother of slain teenager Jordan Davis. She was elected to a congressional seat in 2018 in her home state of Georgia.

The Vivian Malone Courage Award will be presented to McBath by Malone’s sister, Dr. Sharon Malone, and her husband, former Attorney General Eric Holder.

At the opening gala on Sunday, Sept. 23 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Festival will honor poet and educator Nikki Giovanni with a Lifetime Legacy Award.

Throughout the rest of the week, movies such as “She Lied: Carolyn Bryant and the Murder of Emmett Till,” a mock trial that examines the historical roots of false accusations leveled at Black men by white women, will take center stage. The Sept. 24 event will be moderated by Tina Tchen, Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff.

On Sept. 25, George Washington University will host a special workshop performance of “Devine Hamer Gray,” a new theatrical work by Nolan Williams Jr. about the 1964 contested congressional election of Fannie Lou Hamer, Annie Devine and Victoria Gray, three Black female civil rights activists who founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to challenge the state’s whites-only Democratic Party.

Additionally, the National Portrait Gallery will host a live performance of “The Me I Want to Sing: The Cultural Significance of Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price,” a musical piece that focuses on the lives and work of the two divas as cultural and political icons. The performance dovetails with the gallery’s exhibition “One Life: Marian Anderson,” currently on view.

“Each year we select an under-reported aspect of the civil rights movement to highlight in our festival,” said Isisara Bey, the festival’s artistic director. “The pivotal role of women as grass roots organizers, trainers, support staff and leaders for many of the movement’s initiatives has been vastly overlooked.

“We wanted to include the importance of women artists, entertainers and sports figures in promoting the message of the movement and the challenges they faced in their careers,” Bey said. “Finally, we are always mindful of the connection between the movement in the ’60s and its impact on social justice today, and have made an effort to incorporate that in our events.”

Several other screenings, talks and events will take place throughout the week. Many of the events for the festival are free, but RSVPs are required for most. Tickets range from free to $10 for most events with $5 tickets for students. The theatrical premiere of Devine Hamer Gray will cost $20. For scheduling and ticket information, go to marchonwashingtonfilmfestival.org.

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