Latino filmmakers explore their African roots at the New York African Film Festival, which kicks off April 6 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, in New York City, and showcases, among other works, explorations of Afro-Latino roots.
Among the featured film-makers is Carolina Moraes-Liu, whose film, Ebony Goddess: Queen of Ilê Aiye, follows three women in their quest to become queen of carnival in Bahia, Brazil. Their journey, Moraes-Liu shows, becomes an examination of black and Brazilian beauty, evolution and customs long since abandoned by previous generations.
"Growing up, I was taught to be proud of my European side from my grandfather. But nobody told me to be proud of my black roots,” Moraes-Liu told Fox News Latino in a recent interview. “This film is a special moment to celebrate our blackness. I wanted to show a very positive film and wanted black women to look at themselves and feel pride for their culture, not only in Brazil but everywhere else.
"You don't have to have straight blonde hair and blue eyes to be beautiful," she added. "I wanted a film that shows women...can be beautiful however they are and wherever they are."
She added that she is teaching her children those same lessons.
“This is why it’s very important for my kids to go to Brazil as often as possible,” she adds. “It’s who they are. They know they are Latinos and Americans. But, they are extremely proud of being Latinos first.”
Mahen Bonetti, executive director and founder of the non-profit film festival, said cinema gives filmmakers and viewers a vehicle through which they can rediscover an ever-changing Africa.
“I know of a filmmaker who went to Brazil to rediscover her African roots and take that back with her,” Bonetti said. “I’ve also traveled to Brazil and the Caribbean. There is a collective memory that has been held there, and Africans have to come and take it back to Africa in a clear and innocent way.”
Bonetti also believes looking and giving back to Africa is, to many, a healthy way to move forward.
"Hopefully over the opening of the space [the film festival] and conversation of the Diaspora the younger generation will go back [to Africa] and change the continent,” Bonetti says. "This is their moment. Maybe this generation will critique and ask more questions that my generation felt we couldn’t.”
Richard Peña, a New York Boricua who works closely with Bonetti, thinks Latinos in particular could grow professionally and introspectively by showcasing their works.
"We wanted to show that Latin America incorporates African culture,” says Peña, the current Program Director at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. "[The films] are exciting and include Latinos who consider themselves to be part of the African Diaspora.”
Peña has been involved with the African Film Festival since its origins in 1988. He says the films this year, indubitably, show another side of the African continent, which many fail to recognize exists.
"We have even ventured into North African countries this year,” Peña says. “I don’t know how other people see it, but when I hear Latino, I hear a combination of Taino, Native American, African, and White.”
Violeta Ayala, born and raised in Cochabamba, Bolivia, spent weeks on a journey, along with her film partner Dan Fallshaw, through the former Spanish Sahara filming Stolen.
She said what she found was breathtaking.
“Black Saharawis are living in slavery to this day,” says the filmmaker. “We were detained, the people who talked to us were coerced, we had to hide our tapes in the desert. Without any warning we became part of the film and in the middle of a political battle between Morocco and the Polisario, two governments that wanted to hide slavery.”
The experience for Ayala, 33, was truly life-altering.
“Freedom is something that many of us take for granted,” says Ayala, adding that she hopes the film will encourage viewers to become more active. “I want them to stand up with us against this human rights abuse, to let Stolen be the beginning of the end of slavery, the same ancient slavery that has almost destroyed Africa.”
“Bringing all these communities under the umbrella of Africa is really beautiful,” she adds.“The backbone of Latin American and African communities continue to be this army of artists.”
You can reach Alexandra Gratereaux at: Alexandra.Gratereaux@foxnewslatino.com