Good evening. It is a pleasure to be here with you tonight to commemorate Black History Month. This is the twelfth year the United States Embassy and the University of Botswana have partnered to celebrate through the Black History Month Film Festival. This film festival celebrates the central role that African Americans have played in every aspect of American life – and to share their profound contributions to freedom and justice, as well as arts and culture.
This year marks important historic milestones in black history – and in the history of the United States. The 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. The 50th anniversary of the March of Washington. And the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.
These anniversaries conjure up great African American leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, whose names and contributions are well known. But there are countless American heroes that we celebrate this month whose names never appear in a history book.
As President Obama said at this year’s Black History Month reception, “we don’t set aside this month each year to isolate or segregate or put under a glass case black history. We set it aside to illuminate those threads – those threads that African Americans have woven into the tight tapestry of this nation – to make it stronger, and more beautiful, and more just, and more free.”
This is not easy in a nation so diverse. A more perfect world is only achievable if we bring together people from all backgrounds, races, faiths, ability, sexual orientation, and gender identity as one people. These films help us understand America’s story is a shared story with shared experience.
Tonight we watch Kehinde Wiley: An Economy of Grace, a film telling the story of a visual artist and his paintings depicting African-American women. The models for the paintings were cast on the streets of New York City, but their poses are based on historical portraits of high-society women by famous painters. The result is a unique celebration of black women.
Tomorrow we feature 89 year-old jazz musician Clark Terry who spent his life working with and teaching the most important figures in jazz history. Thursday we take a journey Through a Lens Darkly and learn how African American photographers have used the camera as a tool for social change from the invention of photography to the present.
These films are provided by the American Film Showcase. This program brings American films and animated shorts to audiences worldwide, offering a view of American society and culture as seen by independent filmmakers. Through this program, my Embassy, in partnership with Ditshwanelo, will screen the documentary “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” at the annual human rights film festival in April. The director of the film, Mary Dore, will come to Botswana to discuss her film’s creative process through hands-on workshops and master classes with students. We hope you will join us at this year’s Ditshwanelo Film Festival.
I would like to thank the University of Botswana for its partnership to commemorate Black History Month, and the Department of English for its leadership in organizign this year’s film festival.