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JuneteenthKC kicks off this year's celebrations with a film festival featuring Black directors

Seven Black people stand in a darkened room looking toward the camera with expressions of bewilderment.
Glen Wilson
A scene from "The Blackening," directed by Bomani J. Story, which will premiere at the Juneteenth Film Festival on June 13.

The first ever Juneteenth Film Festival in Kansas City is this year's launching pad for African American festivities. It's part of the largest and longest running celebration of the emancipation of enslaved people in the region.

Years before it became a federal holiday, Juneteenth was a time for Kansas City to commemorate the perseverance of Black culture, says Shawn Edwards.

“I've always thought that the Juneteenth celebration here in Kansas City deserved a lot more recognition,” he says.

The award-winning film critic for Fox 4 news is executive producer of the Celebration of Black Cinema and Television, an annual event that honors Black creatives, and he led the effort this year to kick off the inaugural JuneteenthKC Film Festival.

Edwards credits JuneteenthKC founder Horace Peterson III for highlighting one of the most important days in Black American history for people of his generation.

“Kansas City's been celebrating Juneteenth for decades, since I was a kid. Long before it was fashionable or cool to do it,” Edwards says. “So I've always wondered what the connection of the Black experience on film and Juneteenth would feel like.”

The festival opened Wednesday night at Screenland Armour theater with a screening of “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” and will bring four more African American-directed films to the metro. The North Kansas City theater will host all the screenings over the next three weeks.

Edwards says the depictions of Black people in film are vitally important, and showcasing positive images of African American history and culture is essential.

Movie poster with a young Black girl wearing glasses. Behind her is a scary creature wearing a black hood. The title of the poster reads: "The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster."
Shawn Edwards
A scene from the 2020 drama "Miss Juneteenth," directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples. The film follows a single Black mother and former beauty pageant queen who enters her daughter into a Juneteenth beauty pageant.

“When we can control the narrative and tell our own stories, that's where you can create some balance,” he says, “because we can shed a light on the positivity in our community.”

The remaining JuneteenthKC Film Festival screenings are:

7 p.m. on Thursday, June 1: “The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster” directed by Bomani J. Story, free

6:45 p.m. on Monday, June 5: “Miss Juneteenth” directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples, $10

7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 13: “The Blackening” directed by Tim Story, free

3:30 p.m. on Monday, June 19: Do the Right Thing” directed by Spike Lee, $13

Details can be found on the JuneteenthKC website. Each film will be hosted by Black media professionals from around Kansas City, including KCTV 5’s film critic Lonita Cook and Magic 107.3’s radio personality Ivani Bing.

Two of the films, “The Blackening” and “The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster,” will be premieres. The other two are classic Black films.

“All the movies have a distinct style, have a distinct look, and talk about a specific element of the Black community,” says Edwards. “None of the films are the same, but if you watch all four films, I think you would have a greater understanding of the complexities and contradictions of the Black experience.”

Local filmmaker Diallo Javonne French thinks that’s especially true of Spike Lee’s 1989 classic, “Do The Right Thing,” which resonates with audiences almost 34 years after its premiere.

“He could release that film today and issues like police brutality and all the stuff he tackled in that film are still actively going on in our community right now,” Javonne French says. “The only difference between then and now is we have access to call it out regularly because of video and social media.”

 A movie poster is shown with the title "Do the Right Thing." A young girl draws on the blue background while two people stand looing up at the camera.
Shawn Edwards
Image of the original movie poster of Spike Lee's classic "Do The Right Thing." As part of the curated lineup by Shawn Edwards, it will close out the festival on June 19 at the Screenland Armour Theater in North Kansas City.

“It’s timeless,” he says. “As a movie buff I'm excited to see all of them, and the same goes for everyone I’ve talked to leading up to the festival.”

Executive Director Makeda Peterson took over operations of the JuneteenthKC celebrations years ago, continuing in her father’s footsteps.

She noted one movie addresses a problem that has haunted many of Kansas City’s Black residents for decades: gun violence.

“‘The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster’ deals with the trauma of murders within our community,” she says. “For those from other communities who’ve never been touched by gun violence, it will leave a different perception on what the Black community is actually feeling, which speaks volumes.”

“I think this will definitely help change the conversations as we can start to make other people understand what and how we feel, and that can be done through film,” she said.

Peterson hopes the addition of the film festival to JuneteenthKC’s lineup will broaden its reach and appeal to people from all races and walks of life.

“I am excited to just bring a new opportunity to highlight an undervalued segment of African American culture. I think it brings a great amount of opportunity for us to do more and for us to inspire our children in Kansas City.”

As KCUR’s race and culture reporter, I work to help readers and listeners build meaningful and longstanding relationships with the many diverse cultures that make up the Kansas City metro. I deliver nuanced stories about the underrepresented communities that call our metro home, and the people whose historically-overlooked contributions span politics, civil rights, business, the arts, sports and every other realm of our daily lives.
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