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Once More With Feeling – Why Aren’t African Americans At Cannes?

Once More With Feeling - Why Aren't African Americans At Cannes?

Following up on Jeff Friday’s exclusive piece for us last week about the importance and relevance of black film festivals (HERE), and a conversation I had on this very subject about the Cannes Film Festival and black filmmaker this past weekend, with a close friend of mine, I decided to revise and expand on a piece I wrote for S & A over two years ago.

Why aren’t we at Cannes? We, meaning African-American filmmakers.

But let me back up for a second…

Several commenters to Friday’s piece responded that the only film festivals that really matter to filmmakers are those that are also film markets such as Cannes, Toronto or Sundance. Festivals where not only films are shown, but where film projects are pitched and films are bought and sold.

O.K., fair enough. Maybe they have a valid point. Perhaps those are the festivals that really only matter. So if that’s the case, and African American filmmakers should be concentrating on being at film markets selling their films to foreiegn markets, then why aren’t they at Cannes?

True, there are always a few here and there every year, but not even remotely in the same numbers as other filmmakers. Latino filmmakers, Asian filmmakers, filmmakers from every far flung country around the globe are there in force.

And to be perfectly clear, I’m not talking about African filmmakers who, of course, are always at Cannes, even holding an annual party and major events at Cannes every year. Last year, South Africa brought over some 130 filmmakers at Cannes to screen their films, or just to represent and promote themselves and the SA film industry.

But as for African American filmmakers, a pitiful few, if that. Why is that?

AA filmmakers I’ve talked to, who have been to Cannes, have told me how AA filmmakers are pathetically under-represented at the festival. One filmmaker once told me that, the year she was there, the only other black American film she saw represented at Cannes was Hood of Horror with Snoop Dogg, which was being sold to foreign territories..

Another AA filmmaker who was there last year, when I asked if there were other AA filmmakers, just laughed and gave me an “Are you kidding?”  look.

Remember, I’m not talking about AA films being screened at the festival, either in or out of competition. That’s not the important point.

I’m talking about AA filmmakers going to Cannes to schmooze, meet people, to learn more about the business and possibly even making a deal. And to further add, it doesn’t have to be a “black” film, however you define it, for an AA filmmaker to be pitching at Cannes.

And also keep in mind that I’m not talking about staying at The Carlton, eating at expensive restaurants and going to private VIP parties. But instead, staying in a hostel or with a group of people, sharing a one bedroom hotel room, sleeping on the floor, eating once a day and trying to meet people, or setting up screenings of your film in a small rented theater in a hotel room. Which is what almost 90% of the people who attend Cannes really do. They just act like big shots.

I’m reminded of the story about Fred “The Hammer” Williamson after he self-financed, produced and directed his first film many years ago. He went to Cannes flat broke and couldn’t afford  any major advertising to do there. So he hired a couple of models for a day for a few bucks (It wasn’t hard. They’re everywhere at the festival hoping to be discovered). He had them wear tight T shirts with the title of his film on the front, and had them walk up and down the Croisette passing out flyers with information about screenings of his film, to anyone who looked even remotely important.

By the time Williamson left Cannes, not only had he made his money back selling his film to several foreign distributors, he made a huge profit as well.

And come to think of it, why hasn’t Tyler Perry been at Cannes?

He finances his own films and he can certainly afford a major promotional push for them at Cannes, and can even book a suite of rooms at the Carlton. He has said several times before that he wants to get into the overseas market, so why not try?  Isn’t that the only reason he cast Kimmy Kakes and her non-acting plastic ass in his latest film Temptation, and gave her second billing above the title in order to attract a broader audience? He may be very successful or he might not make a single foreign sale, but at least he can say that he gave it a shot.

And I know some people will say that AA films don’t “travel” and that the overseas market for them is limited. Well tell that to all those African filmmakers who come to Cannes every year. I don’t think they feel the same way. This is a global film world, and too many AA filmmakers still have a provincial mindset.

I’ve asked this question about the lack of AA filmmakers at Cannes to other AA filmmakers, and usually the response I get is a blank expression, or a shrug of the shoulder, or something along the lines of: “Well we’re not educated about it…” or ”Maybe if some programs were established to help…”  You mean someone has to lead you by the hand like a little kid? Seriously?

We’re in the 21st century now. It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out how to just get a ticket, fly there, get in the mix and just see what happens.

And what I say about Cannes also goes for Toronto, Sundance, Berlin or whatever international film markets are out there.

So what do you say?

This Article is related to: Features


April Russell

I will be at Cannes this year. This is my second year traveling to Cannes. Will you be there? I would love to connect.

April Q. Russell


[Stereotype] you want to hide something from a black person, put it in a book.
There should be more information out there to educate AA filmmakers on Cannes.
[Blacks who been to Cannes] if you need someone to hold your hand you shouldn't be there. If you want a guide you shouldn't be there. If you want to learn something don't read just go and learn first hand.

The only black people who should Have an elitist attitude about their craft are athletes. They are the only ones blowing their racial competition out of the water.


The reason black people are underespresented at Cannes is too many of the black celebrities in the business don't understand the business, this comes with the hustle mentality , I see too mnay black celebrites embrace this instead of thinking like businessmen and businesswomen. Too many black people and celebrites also buy into the streotypes black films don't do well overseas. Trust me theres a market for black stories overseas, I'm going by my love of foreign films to be introduced to different cultures and ways of telling stories, so I have to believe there is a lot of people in other parts of the world that will love films about black people to be introduced to stories different from their culture. Until we stop looking at films as a hustle and instead look at it as a art and business, we will continue having these repetitive conversations yaer in and year out. If youre a filmmaker,actor , and producer and you never heard of cannes and what's it's about that already tell me you got a limited sense of business, because if you don't understand why going to cannes in or out of competition makes business sense you are planning on doing limited business then turn around and wonder why black films don't do well overseas. I'm glad you highlighted Fred The Hammer Williamson, I've been telling people for years I respected his business sense more than other black celebrity because he used the system to make a lane for himself, when the blaxploitation films died out in the late 70's, he went to Italy and became a box office star over their in films he produced himself and starred in. He did the movie One Down Two to go by himself, in a time when studios weren't releasing any black films to theaters. The other stars Richard Roundtree, Jim Brown, and Jim Kelly movie careers had dried up by this time, but the Hammer was still going strong because of his business sense. He made this move to put those guys back into the spotlight. This is how we should be doing business.


Smell that? You smell that? What? Napalm y'all. Nothing in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time I woke up to… that smell [sniffing, pondering] that smell of victory. And now I smelling the intoxicating smell of Michele and Candace Allen's perfume. They're wearing a fragrance that takes a little time and patience to acquire, but when one snuggles close to it's alluring charm, they will know that victory stands near.

The fragrance they wear is WISDOM.

Take a whiff–>"I learned from a really smart hardass mentor that you can't make excuses. Perhaps it sounds harsh, but the world only has doers and doubters." … "As far as Cannes is concerned — and I mean both the organization itself and the folks who attend in whatever capacity — it is the BIG TIME and those wanting a training manual just are NOT ready. If you [think] you want in, you go and you learn, both the high and the low [or keep your behind at home and talk about it] "

Yes ma'am, I smell yawl. And I love the smell of wisdom.

Ronda Racha Penrice

Michele, getting to Cannes is not like going to Toronto or Miami or L.A. First of all, you have to fly to Nice and then get to Cannes so you can't even go there directly. Trust me, it helps a lot if you speak French. But, more than that, if you con't know what a festival offers you, you won't make the investment. Since going, I have told filmmaker friends that they need to make it a priority but we are talking about a good $3000 trip on the cheap. That's not small change. As, with anything, networking is key. Film is an especially collaborative business. It's not about someone holding your hand. Access is very crucial. Education is critical. A lot of times those of us on the inside think it's so easy and makes so much common sense to do certain things but, when you are not privy to what those certain things are, it's just not on your radar. I am not making excuses for any artists. I have been to Cannes so I am not guessing about it. And when I go again, I will have a different game plan. I know people of color who have planned and executed film festivals who are unaware of all that Cannes offers. I worked in film and didn't know myself until I went. I think this post is important because it informs filmmakers that they should be there. Now we have to take it a step further and let them know how to get there. If that's hand-holding then I'd rather hold your hand and know that you got to the opportunity than sit up in my Ivory Tower passing judgment on those who didn't know. We have to get back to truly trying to help each other if we are ever going to get any further.


This is stupid. We're at these festivals, we're just not there in high numbers, but that shouldn't be a surprise, and I'm not ready to make blanket statements like this saying that we're not there. It's not fair to those who are there hustling like everybody else. You make a lot of assertions Sergio, but not much data to back up what you're saying. Do you have numbers that say there are so many Latino filmmakers, so many Asian filmmakers, so many African filmmakers at Cannes but only this many, or no African American filmmakers? If not then you're just making assumptions based on what you've heard from a couple of people. Have YOU been to Cannes Sergio? Do you have firsthand experience there to be able to say so assuredly the things that you're saying? If you don't, and you haven't actually done any research yourself, then you why should anyone take this article seriously? Come on son.


“Well we’re not educated about it…” or ”Maybe if some programs were established to help…” You mean someone has to lead you by the hand like a little kid? Seriously? — I'm down with you Sergio, seriously. No one knows how to google film festivals? This is like a fashion designer saying they don't know anything about fashion week. When you go into a creative medium it's YOUR job to figure our how to expose your work to the right people in order for it to be a success. You do it by any means necessary, and if it doesn't work. TRY AGAIN. You're either about making excuses or making money.

Ronda Racha Penrice

Of course it's expensive to travel to Cannes so that is a problem for many people but I think, more importantly, AA filmmakers don't know that Cannes is really a marketplace for film. I went in '09 and was amazed by how much of a marketplace it truly was and what tremendous opportunities it represented. I don't think hand-holding is needed but education would be wise. Going to see it for yourself does wonders. From the outside looking in, Cannes seems so chi chi and only about the films that are selected from screening. Many filmmakers just don't realize that it's really a major gateway for foreign distribution. I do think the American Pavilion can do a better job of promoting itself and, also, people need basic info like when to go, where to stay, how to get a phone, where to eat for cheap, etc. If all of that information was provided and they still didn't go, it would be on them but we have to realize that many people are not courageous enough to just go into the unknown. Also, there might be real dangers. I was in a group and trailed behind and a white French man grabbed my butt. It was very unsettling so you have to be careful. You can get along without speaking French but it helps a lot more to speak French. I was fortunate I was with people who spoke some French. It cannot be overstated. Also I think the festival itself can do better outreach. You can't blame people for not really knowing what something is. That's why outlets like these are so important.

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