We’ve all heard the line that Latin America is a place of utopian racial intermixing, where racism couldn’t possibly take root because we’re all just one people and blah blah blah, but we also know this idea masks implicit color hierarchies and even the outright denial of our roots, a problem that persists to this day across Nuestra América. Our collective African heritage has been one of the most unfortunate victims of these colonial biases, and most countries in the region have preferred to brush aside, erase, or even exterminate any trace of their African identities.
Thankfully, these days, more and more people are beginning to accept that Africa is an integral part of Latinidad, but as it has been with the rest of the world, it’s going to be a long uphill battle until peoples of African descent are properly represented in our media landscape. In the meantime, thanks to the tireless efforts of organizations like the African Diaspora International Film Festival New York (ADIFF NY), there is an outlet for these emerging stories to be shared, and for this important dialogue to be had.
Over the last 23 years, the ADIFF NY has been bringing New York audiences a wide array of stories showcasing the diversity of experience both within Africa and across the diaspora. From Morocco to France, to Harlem and Haiti, the festival’s programming is characterized by its open mind, showcasing no agenda other than its stated mission of providing a space to share these important stories. This year’s edition features stories of love, innocence, revolution, and war, including documentaries, features, and animation, along with a touch of Dennis Rodman. The festival will be playing across venues in New York City through December 13.
Here’s a rundown of the Latino films featured in this year’s program.
The African Diaspora International Film Festival New York runs until December 13, 2015.
Dólares de arena
The Dominican feature Dólares de arena (Sand Dollars), by husband-wife directing duo Laura Amelia Guzmán and Israel Cárdenas, features none other than Geraldine Chaplin (daughter of Charlie and a brilliant actress in her own right) as an elderly French tourist who falls in love with a young Dominican woman and makes plans to move her back to France. Not your typical story of tropical romance told through the eyes of a white foreigner, this film is equally interested in exploring the predicament of the young Dominican woman, played by Yanet Mojica, and the shady power dynamics that may be at work.
Tango Negro: The African Roots of Tango
Tango is generally believed to have originated in mid-19th century Argentine slave societies, and the man widely recognized as the country’s first tango musician, Rosendo Mendizábal, was Afro-Argentine. Yet many Argentines are loath to accept the African origins of their most cherished and internationally recognized cultural expression. To set the record straight, an Angolan filmmaker by the name of Dom Pedro took to the streets of Buenos Aires and beyond to get the lowdown on tango’s African roots. Along the way, he discovered a nation deeply ambivalent about its African heritage.
Cu-Bop: Cuba-New York Music Documentary
Jazz may have started in New Orleans before spreading throughout the United States, but as a musical expression of the African diaspora it’s no surprise that Cuban musicians found their own voices through the fusion of rumba and American jazz that has come to be known as Latin Jazz. Cu-Bop: Cuba-New York Music Documentary explores this legacy through the experience of two Cuban musicians: saxophonist César López and pianist Axel Tosca. After years of living and working in New York, Cu-Bop picks up when Tosca returns to his native Cuba for an unforgettable jam session that will reconnect him with the source of his inspiration.
A Dios Momo
Obdulio is a young boy from the slums of Montevideo who spends his days selling newspapers and his evenings dreaming about becoming a famous soccer player with his best friend. When he meets a charismatic night watchman named El Maestro, who promises to teach him a secret of the Uruguayan Carnival tradition called murgas, Obdulio begins to learn how to read and write by copying the lyrics of the murgas onto a chalkboard. Along the way, the magical Maestro also teaches Obdulio something about the meaning of life through the lyrics of these traditional songs. A magical realist ode to Uruguay’s famous carnaval, A Dios Momo is also an homage to one of director Leonardo Ricagni’s greatest influences, Federico Fellini.