2021 Micheaux Film Festival Awards Show honors Robert Townsend, Independent BIPOC filmmakers

Written by Jessica Dupree
Edited by Craig Dewey Stanley
Photos & Video by Craig Dewey Stanley 

The Micheaux Film Festival wrapped up its third year of celebrating BIPOC creators and diversity this past weekend with a red carpet and awards program at the famous TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood. There, legendary filmmaker Robert Townsend received the Oscar Micheaux Trailblazer of Excellence Award for his contributions to both mainstream and independent Hollywood, while other creators took home more than $70,000 in prizes.

Robert Townsend

“It feels really good to be honored,” Townsend said. “Oscar Micheaux is one of my heroes and he was one of the first men of color to write, direct, produce, and distribute his own film. To honor me with his namesake award is special.”

Emmy-nominated Director and Producer Noel Braham and filmmaker Courtney Branch created the Micheaux Film Festival in 2019, naming the celebration after pioneering African American film director and independent producer Oscar Michaeux.

The multi-cultural film festival showcases and celebrates diverse representation in film, television, and digital spaces. The platform also serves as a curator of community as artists and filmmakers build relationships with future collaborators and share their unique stories and experiences in-person and online.

After receiving over 400 submissions, Braham and Branch took on 180 projects for the festival, ranging from shorts to feature films, music videos, and web series.

“We watched every film from beginning to end, with over 100 hours of content,” Braham said of this year’s festival selection. With a commitment to diversity and inclusion, Braham and Branch have worked hard to foster an environment where all participants feel welcome, a sense of belonging, and ability to identify with the stories.

And this year, major sponsors including The Oprah Winfrey Network, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Panavision, signified a strong effort underway to unify and bridge the gap between mainstream Hollywood and the independent creators.

Heart & Soul on the Red Carpet at the Micheaux Film Festival

Braham and Branch spoke with Heart & Soul on the red carpet at the Michaeux Film Festival and discussed the stories and conversations that are important to our culture now as well as what they want their legacy to be.

Director and Producer Noel Braham and filmmaker Courtney Branch

Q. You created this platform for African American film makers who weren’t given opportunities as we continue to hear people say that “our stories need to be told” and “our voices matter.” What stories and conversations that need to be started that are really important for our culture?

Noel: I think that as a people us beginning to look at economic issues and addressing those that fall below the poverty line, continuing as well to push forward the importance of education and educational materials for within lower socioeconomic areas. That’s incredibly important.

Q. What type of impact that you want to have within the film community?

Noel: [Oscar] Micheaux once said that “there is no barrier to success which diligence and perseverance cannot hurdle,” and that “our self-image is so powerful it unwittingly becomes our destiny.” And so I think that in that same vein, I pray that every filmmaker and artist out there, that when they look into the mirror [they] understand that they are chosen, they’re accepted, and they’re enough. That they continue to take and create work and making sure that they’re doing it form an honest place because that’s what Micheaux did. And that’s why he was able to impact and have such a legacy, though much of mainstream Hollywood doesn’t recognize it. But my hope is that people understand and the filmmakers that come here know that they’re enough and continue to create from an honest pace.

Courtney: I think that the legacy we want to have is knowing that we touched those on an individual level then also impacting the community, and also impacting the filmmakers that we serve and letting them know that they’re enough. Hey, you may not have the biggest budget but you’re still creating in excellence, you’re putting your work out there, you’re creating your art, producing it even without the resources and we are here to give you that platform to showcase it. That’s what we want our legacy to be.

Director and Producer Noel Braham and filmmaker Courtney Branch

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