“Black N Black” Honored at Roxbury International Film Festival

Amy Mevorach
Issue Date: 
August, 2018
Article Body: 

Natick filmmaker Zadi Zokou recently debuted his documentary, “Black N Black,” at Morgan State University in Baltimore at a Pan African Collective event, and on June 26 at The Roxbury International Film Festival in Boston, where it won the Henry Hampton Award for Excellence in Documentary Filmmaking.
The film is a study of relations between Africans and African Americans, which are more complicated than the filmmaker aniticipated. “My initial goal,” said Zokou, a native of the Ivory Coast, “was to celebrate the kinship between African Americans and African Immigrants. But I was stunned when an African American friend of mine refused to take part in the project, saying that this topic is very sensitive and she did not want to hurt anyone with her words. I was so stunned that I decided to investigate and quickly realized how sensitive the issues really are. That’s how I came up with this documentary.”
“Black N Black” presents candid accounts of people’s experiences and feelings. Christle Rawlins-Jackson, an African American woman who narrates the film and also speaks on camera, described a trip to Ghana where she intended to connect with her African roots. She was surprised to find that she was considered an outsider. “Words we casually use in African countries to address African Americans, like Toubab, Obroni, or Mzungu, usually mean stranger, outsider, or white person,” said Zokou. “I didn’t know until I began my research that many African Americans find them hurtful.”
Also surprising, said Zokou, was that many African Americans suspect that African Immigrants think they are superior to them. “I found it strange because Continental Africans often feel looked down upon. So it was kind of shocking to me.”
The process of creating the film began in 2013, with research, interviews, and travels in the US and in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, as well as visits to several African American museums, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture, in DC, to learn about African American history. “When I first came here, I did not have a lot of relationships with African Americans,” Zokou said during the Q&A that followed the Roxbury screening. “I just wanted to make a documentary celebrating the kinship between Africans and African Americans. We come from the same place. After I did some research, I changed the focus from celebrating kinship to solving problems.”
The problems are addressed honestly in the film, even though Zokou found it challenging to get some interviewees to talk. “Everything about race, even within the same race, is very sensitive and some people were reluctant to express their true feelings. But patience, persuasion, and recommendations by other people helped a lot.” Zokou’s previous documentary “Praying Town,” about the history and presence of the Natick Praying Indians, also lent credibility to his work, as it offered balanced views. When considering what to present in “Black N Black,” Zokou decided to include even the perspectives he thought were harsh. “I believe that true feelings, even hurtful, are always best for a sincere conversation.”
The content of the film moves through points of contention between Africans and African Americans, one example being some Africans’ collusion in the slave trade. Themes are explored from a variety of perspectives and ultimately come together in a hope of clearer understanding through increased communication.
“The goal is to spark a dialogue about real issues that nobody talks about. Not understanding each other, even the things we have in common, is part of the problem. That’s why an important portion of this documentary is about our shared history and cultures.”
On August 27 the film will screen at the Boston Pan African forum, with a Q&A
forum led by people who have studied this issue. For more information, visit the facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Informationaldocumentary/ or the website: www.blacknblackthemovie.com. visit the facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Informationaldocumentary/ or the website: www.blacknblackthemovie.com.