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The Pan African Film Festival aims to correct misconceptions about African and Caribbean countries

Sonaiya Kelley, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

LOS ANGELES -- Last month, during a meeting in the Oval Office, the president asked why the United States should accept immigrants from Africa, Central America and the Caribbean.

"What do we want Haitians here for?" Donald Trump asked. "Why do we want all these people from Africa here? Why do we want all these people from shithole countries?"

For Ayuko Babu, executive director of the Pan African Film & Arts Festival, now in its 26th year, the statement was more than disappointing.

"He was talking about us," he said. "About me, my family, our people around the world. We didn't get through 500 years 1/8of slavery3/8 without bringing a lot of wisdom and insight. So that is a silly comment."

"It shows the kind of ignorance that's pervasive with respect to Africa and the Third World," added Asantewa Olatunji, director of programming for the festival. "One of the things these kinds of statements do is play on the self-esteem of the people that come from there, even though we may know better. So one of the things that we try to do with the Pan African Film Festival is make sure that we show those positive and realistic images. And that when we look at it we can identify ourselves."

This year, the festival will be held through Feb. 19 at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza's Rave Cinemas. Even before Trump's statement, the festival has existed in part to correct misconceptions about people of the African diaspora.

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Launched in 1992 by a group of activists (including Babu, Danny Glover and "Good Times" actress Ja'Net DuBois) concerned about the portrayal of black people in the media, the festival seeks to promote inclusion, diversity of storytelling and accurate representation of the black experience.

"So we decided to put together a festival of films that come from all over the world and show a more realistic image of the people that we are," said Olatunji.

Since 1992, PAFF has grown from a seven-day festival screening almost 40 films to a 12-day festival that screens more than 170. "We're now the largest black film festival in the United States and probably in this hemisphere," said Olatunji.

Approximately 35,000 people, including more than 100 filmmakers, attend the festival just for the films (roughly 90,000 people show up for the festival's fine arts show). This year's lineup includes films from more than 40 countries spanning five continents and 26 languages.

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