Radha Blank wins directing award for U.sS. dramatic films at Sundance Film Festival 2020. (289809)
Credit: Sundance.org photo

Following the release of statistics producing low numbers of Black and POC presence at Sundance and film festivals all over the world, the 2020 Sundance Film Festival has made strides in creating space for inclusion and diversity within the festival film’s selections and their active nurturing of Black and POC filmmakers. This year, out of 16 U.S. documentary features 31% of the films were by people of color, 56% of U.S. dramatic features, 25% of world documentary features, 67% of world dramatic features, 29% of documentary premiere features, 10% of premiere features and 29% of spotlight features were by Black and people of color.

Before the festival began there was buzz and anticipation from Black filmmakers like Radha Blank (“The 40-Year-Old Version”), Justin Simien (“Bad Hair”), Janicza Bravo (“Zola”), Eugene Ashe (“Sylvie’s Love”), Ekwa Msangi (“Farewell Amor”) and Channing Godfrey Peoples (“Miss Juneteenth”), all of which delivered touching, hilarious or downright scary offerings to the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. Along with the rise in selections of Black films, Sundance Institute enacted its second year of the Press Inclusion Initiative, which offered funding in the film of unrestricted stipends to 51 Black, POC, LGTBQ and disabled film critics for view and covered the films of their choices.

After nine days of screenings to thousands of film fans and press and industry professionals, the festival announced the winners of Sundance’s film competition awards. Below are the winning Black films. Special acknowledgement and congratulations are due to three Black women filmmakers, Radha Blank (“The 40-Year Old Version,” U.S. dramatic competition) Garrett Bradley (“Time,” U.S. documentary competition) and Maïmouna Doucouré’s (“Cuties,” world cinema dramatic competition) for all winning directing awards this year. Ava DuVernay was the first Black woman to win a directing award at Sundance in 2012; 2020 awarded three Black woman the prestigious nod. Eight out of the 28 major awards went to Black filmmakers and actors.

There is still a lot of work to do in Hollywood and the film and entertainment industry. Nonetheless, we should never cease to celebrate not the evolution of inclusion in white spaces, but the well deserved achievements of Black artists across the world.

Black winners of Sundance Film Festival 2020

The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented to Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine, for “Boys State”/U.S.A. (Directors: Jesse Moss, Amanda McBaine, Producers: Amanda McBaine, Jesse Moss)—In an unusual experiment, a thousand 17-year-old boys from Texas join together to build a representative government from the ground up.

The Directing Award: U.S. Documentary was presented to: Garrett Bradley, for “Time”/U.S.A. (Director: Garrett Bradley, Producers: Lauren Domino, Kellen Quinn, Garrett Bradley)—Fox Rich, indomitable matriarch and modern-day abolitionist, strives to keep her family together while fighting for the release of her incarcerated husband. An intimate, epic, and unconventional love story, filmed over two decades.

The Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented to: Radha Blank, for “The 40-Year-Old Version”/U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Radha Blank, Producers: Lena Waithe, Jordan Fudge, Radha Blank, Inuka Bacote-Capiga, Jennifer Semler, Rishi Rajani)—A down-on-her-luck New York playwright decides to reinvent herself and salvage her artistic voice the only way she knows how: by becoming a rapper at age 40. Cast: Radha Blank, Peter Y. Kim, Oswin Benjamin, Reed Birney, Imani Lewis, TJ Atoms.

The Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented to: Maïmouna Doucouré, for “Cuties”/France (Director and screenwriter: Maïmouna Doucouré, Producer: Zangro)—Amy, 11 years old, meets a group of dancers called “Cuties.” Fascinated, she initiates herself to a sensual dance, hoping to join their band and escape family dysfunction. Cast: Fathia Youssouf, Médina El Aidi-Azouni, Esther Gohourou, Ilanah Cami-Goursolas, Myriam Hamma, Maïmouna Gueye.

The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented to: Edson Oda, for “Nine Days”/U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Edson Oda, Producers: Jason Michael Berman, Mette Marie Kongsved, Matthew Lindner, Laura Tunstall, Datari Turner)—In a house distant from the reality we know, a reclusive man interviews prospective candidates—personifications of human souls—for the privilege that he once had: to be born. Cast: Winston Duke, Zazie Beetz, Benedict Wong, Bill Skarsgård, Tony Hale, David Rysdahl.

A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Ensemble Cast was presented to: the cast of “Charm City Kings,” for “Charm City Kings”/U.S.A. (Director: Angel Manuel Soto, Screenwriters: Sherman Payne, Chris Boyd & Kirk Sullivan, Barry Jenkins, Producers: Caleeb Pinkett, Clarence Hammond, Marc Bienstock)—Mouse desperately wants to join The Midnight Clique, the infamous Baltimore dirt bike riders who rule the summertime streets. When Midnight’s leader, Blax, takes 14-year-old Mouse under his wing, Mouse soon finds himself torn between the straight-and-narrow and a road filled with fast money and violence. Cast: Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Meek Mill, Will Catlett, Teyonah Parris, Donielle Tremaine Hansley, Kezii Curtis.

A World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Visionary Filmmaking was presented to: Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, for “This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection”/Lesotho, South Africa, Italy (Director and screenwriter: Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, Producers: Cait Pansegrouw, Elias Ribeiro)—When her village is threatened with forced resettlement due to reservoir construction, an 80-year-old widow finds a new will to live and ignites the spirit of resilience within her community. In the final dramatic moments of her life, Mantoa’s legend is forged and made eternal. Cast: Mary Twala Mhlongo, Jerry Mofokeng Wa Makheta, Makhoala Ndebele, Tseko Monaheng, Siphiwe Nzima.

A World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing was presented to: Mila Aung-Thwin, Sam Soko, and Ryan Mullins, for “Softie”/Kenya (Director and screenwriter: Sam Soko, Producers: Toni Kamau, Sam Soko)—Boniface Mwangi is daring and audacious, and recognized as Kenya’s most provocative photojournalist. But as a father of three young children, these qualities create tremendous turmoil between him and his wife Njeri. When he wants to run for political office, he is forced to choose: country or family?

The Short Film Jury Award: U.S. Fiction was awarded to: “Ship: A Visual Poem”/U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Terrance Daye).

The Sundance Institute/Amazon Studios Producers Award for Narrative Features went to Huriyyah Muhammad for “Farewell Amor.”