The definition of urban, an adjective, reflects a characteristic of a town or city, “the urban population” according to a Google search. In this spirit—I assume—The Urbanworld Film Festival was so named. From Sept. 18-22 the 23rd annual Urbanworld Film Festival will screen 78 official selections and 7 spotlight selections representing inclusion in the broadest sense with content from around the globe by creators of color and women. The festival will take place in Manhattan’s AMC Empire 25 on 234 West 42nd Street.
Festival director and head of programming of the Urbanworld Film Festival shared this: “Each year we strive to expand our programming slate to expose stories, themes, and characters that have been under-represented in our world. This year is no exception.”
Some of the spotlights of the festival include:
Focus Features’ “Harriet” will open the festival on Wednesday, Sept. 18, at 7:30 p.m. Tony-winning Broadway actor Cynthia Erivo stars in Kasi Lemmons’ inspiring biopic about renowned abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who escaped slavery and risked her life to lead others to freedom through the network of safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. Erivo, Lemmons and producers Debra Martin Chase and Daniela Taplin Lundberg are confirmed to attend the festival and a conversation with them, moderated by “CBS This Morning Saturday’s” Michelle Miller, will immediately follow the screening.
Lemmons is also this year’s festival ambassador. “I’m thrilled to share Harriet with the Urbanworld Film Festival audience. The experience of creating this film was life-changing for me in so many ways,” said Lemmons. “We are honored to open this festival and look forward to discussing our journey with such a passionate group of film lovers.” The award-winning director, writer, actress and professor’s feature films include “Eve’s Bayou,” “The Caveman’s Valentine,” “Talk to Me” and “Black Nativity.” She is currently directing the first two episodes of the 4-part Netflix miniseries “Madam CJ Walker.”
Helmed by Academy and Emmy Award-winning director Roger Ross Williams, HBO’s “The Apollo” chronicles the unique history and contemporary legacy of the New York City landmark, the Apollo Theater and will make its Urbanworld debut on Thursday, Sept. 19, at 8 p.m. The documentary weaves together archival footage, music, comedy, and dance performances and behind-the-scenes verité with the team that makes the theater run. Williams and producer Lisa Cortes will be featured for a Q&A immediately following the documentary.
Friday, Sept. 20, at 7:45 P.M ABC’s “mixed-ish” will be showcased at the festival. Rainbow Johnson recounts her experience growing up in a mixed-race family in the ’80s and the constant dilemmas they had to face over whether to assimilate or stay true to themselves. Bow’s parents Paul (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) and Alicia (Tika Sumpter) decide to move from a hippie commune to the suburbs to better provide for their family. This family’s experiences illuminate the challenges of finding one’s own identity when the rest of the world can’t decide where you belong. Immediately following, there will be a talk with Sumpter and Gosselaar.
“Just Mercy” is the powerful true story of Harvard-educated lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) as he goes to Alabama to defend the disenfranchised and wrongly condemned—including Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), a man sentenced to death despite evidence proving his innocence. Bryan fights tirelessly for Walter with the system stacked against them. From director Destin Daniel Cretton and based on the book by Stevenson, the Warner Bros. film will screen on Friday, Sept. 20, at 8 p.m. There will be a conversation with Stevenson after the screening.
BET Networks and Tyler Perry Studios’ new joint venture BET+, the premier subscription video-on-demand service, will debut one of its first series, Tracy Oliver’s “First Wives Club,” at Urbanworld on Saturday, Sept. 21, at 6:45 p.m. After neglecting their friendship, best friends Ari (Ryan Michelle Bathe), Hazel (Jill Scott) and Bree (Michelle Buteau) reunite to help each other through rough patches in their lives. Together, they navigate music superstar Hazel’s tabloid-ridden divorce, campaign manager Ari’s unsatisfying marriage and orthopedic surgeon Bree’s cheating husband. Along the way, the women learn that as long as they have each other, there’s nothing they can’t do.
“Black and Blue” will close the festival on Saturday, Sept. 21, at 8 p.m. The fast-paced action thriller from Screen Gems follows a rookie cop (Academy Award nominee Naomie Harris) who inadvertently captures the murder of a young drug dealer on her bodycam. After realizing that the murder was committed by corrupt cops, she teams up with the one person from her community who is willing to help her (Tyrese Gibson) as she tries to escape both the criminals out for revenge and the police who are desperate to destroy the incriminating footage. A conversation with director Deon Taylor moderated by journalist Gia Peppers will follow the screening.
Passes and tickets for the festival are on sale now on urbanworld.org. Additional festival announcements will also be made in September. Follow @UWFilmFest and use #Urbanworld19 to join the conversation about the festival on social media.