The Pan African Film Festival brings black creative works to the forefront

Event in South LA was created to show the variety of creative works that exist across the African diaspora.

The 28th annual Pan African Film Festival — the nation's largest and most prestigious black film fest — opened its doors for its premiere night with a screening of the film “Hero.” The resounding message from the red carpet by celebrities and community leaders was that of perseverance; to “keep going.”

Hero” is a story inspired by Ulric Cross, a diplomat and judge from Trinidad and Tobago who was also a highly decorated veteran of World War II. Cross played a major role in the Pan African movement and was also an inspiration for the Black Power and civil rights movements that happened in the U.S.

The Pan African Film Festival, or PAFF, was created to show the variety of creative works that exist across the African diaspora, according to the festival’s website. Part of the festival’s mission is to combat the negative stereotypes that exist around people of African descent.

Actress Vanessa A. Williams was one of the celebrities who showed up to support the organization's mission.

“It’s the idea that if you don’t see yourself represented, that you don’t know you’re important, you feel like you disappear. You don’t matter,” Willams said. ”And so this is why it matters to see these stories from all over the diaspora, from the continent, about who we are.”

The festival’s website states that each year 150 new films and 100 artists are showcased. The artists come from all across the African diaspora, representing “Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, South America, Europe, the South Pacific and Canada.” This, the website says, is meant to display the cultural diversity among people of African descent.

Among the attendees was American civil rights activist, Evelyn Knight — who fled the south to California during Jim Crow, and marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma. Knight offered advice on how to handle the challenges people of color face in the workplace.

“You have to understand that you have the power,” Knight said. “You have gifts, you have talent. You do what you can do, the best way you can do it and with God's help you will overcome. That's what Martin did. That's what I did. That's what all our people did.”

Khaneshia "KJ" Smith, who plays Andrea on Tyler Perry’s TV show “Sistas,” offered advice to blackc individuals who want to get involved with the entertainment business. Smith talked about the importance of knowing who you are before entering the industry as a person of color.

“First and foremost you have to know yourself because this is an industry that will tell you who you are,” Smith said. “And if you allow that to happen you'll get lost. What are my insecurities, what are my triggers, what makes me angry and what makes me happy? You have to know all of that stuff before you get in this industry because it’s rejection city and you'll be mad.”

Like Smith, Katrina Jackson, also known as Kat from the TV show “Black Ink Crew: Chicago,” said she knows all about overcoming adversity. She recently left the Windy City to pursue her dreams of owning her own tattoo shop, and shared words on how to persevere despite setbacks.

“I'm really just following my dreams, “ Jackson said. “ Don't get discouraged when you get knocked down, just get back up. It's sometimes hard to believe how far I came just by following my dream and staying true to tattooing. And you know, now here I am, a female tattoo shop owner in Beverly Hills... just always keep going.”

In addition to film screenings and a variety of diverse artists, PAFF will also be offering free workshops and panel discussions. Upcoming workshops at PAFF include a “Homebuyers Workshop” presented by Union Bank. The workshop will focus on real estate and financial literacy, and will be held on Feb. 18 and 19 from 5 to 7 p.m.

The Pan African Film festival will run through Feb. 23 at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.