The Grackle

Observations, Reflections and Miscellany from the Wacoan

Reel Stories, Real Impact

Film, Community & Conversations

4 weeks ago

Pictured: Waco Community Choir performance. Photo by Emily Ober

By Emily Ober

As someone who loves film and film festivals, I was excited to go watch movies by independent filmmakers at the Reel Stories: A Black Film Showcase this weekend. But from night one, I knew that this was so much more than just an evening of film. It was a special event for the entire Waco community and one I hope that we see more of in the future.

Over the course of three days, Deep in the Heart Film Festival, Creative Waco and Art Center Waco put on a film showcase spotlighting the Black experience. What was meant to be a part of the 2022 Film Festival lineup in July was turned into an immersive experience that brought the people of Waco together for films and conversations as well as music, food, drinks and community.

Art Center Waco opened its doors for the event and the walls were filled with a special gallery show set up by BLACCENT. Stay Classy provided wine and beer for all three nights and each night featured catering by Black-owned restaurants in Waco.

Musical performances accompanied the films and the talkback panels at the end of each night allowed the attendees to participate in discussions of the films and the issues they brought forth.

The Waco Community Choir showcased their musical talents to kick-off night one. Sascee’s Southern Style Eatery served up a delicious plate of fried chicken, rice and beans and collard greens — staples of Southern food that we love here in Waco.

The Choir got the whole room dancing and singing to a beautiful rendition of “Hold On (Change is Comin’)” which was the perfect song to accompany Baylor Professor Dr. Stephanie Boddie’s film, “Unfinished Business.”

The documentary focuses on African American men and women from Pittsburgh and the Great Migration of the early 1900s. To escape the horrors of the South following the Civil War, approximately 6 million African Americans left for northern, midwestern and western states. “Unfinished Business” highlights the mistreatment of Black Americans that continues even to this day.

The film asserts that while many thought they had arrived after the passing of the Civil Rights Act, there is still so much left to be done to truly bring equality to all.

The second evening, Tru Jamaica filled the room with delectable smells of fried plantains, meat and veggie patties and sorrel ginger drink.

The night’s film, “A Most Beautiful Thing,” brought comedy to the serious story of hope for young Black kids in westside Chicago, and throughout the country. This documentary follows the men who broke stereotypes and became the first all-Black rowing team in 1997. It was presented in conjunction with Waco Rowing Regatta.

Inspired by Arshay Cooper, the documentary tells the story of Cooper and his teammates, Alvin Ross, Preston Grandberry, Malcom Hawkins, and Ray ‘Pookie’ Hawkins. Although the team never won first place in the season they competed, they did something even more impactful. Growing up, they faced many oppositions, and several turned to gangs or drugs at a young age. The rowing team offered these boys a new family outside of that. They looked out for one another. Not all made it out. The team lost their youngest to the rampant gun violence in their neighborhood.

Aside from rowing, the boys found their place in entrepreneur classes and now run their own businesses. Years later, the family they found in one another came together once more to row again. With the help of Olympic rowing coach, Mike Teti, they trained for the Chicago Sprint. The goal was to show young kids that there is hope for their future and that they can find family outside of the gang culture that ensnares so many young lives. They took it a step further and did the 8-man race with four members of the Chicago Police Department. The race was not to win but to show what’s possible when people from seemingly opposing sides come together on the same team.

It’s films like this one, that show the impact that these groundbreaking accomplishments have on the Black community, that help people outside of the community understand and show us how we can continue championing change for the next generation and the next until we’ve truly completed our unfinished business.

The final night of the showcase opened with The Smooth Nature bringing cool tunes. This up-and-coming group has been getting a lot of attention and I can see why. Curry’s Gourmet Catering brought a wide selection of small bites, from cheese and crackers to a buffalo chicken dip that had many going back for seconds.

The music and food brought a lighter mood leading up to the heaviest film of the showcase, “Aftershock.”

The documentary tells the story of two Black women who were failed by the healthcare system and are among the many Black women that make up the disproportionate percentage of maternal mortality rate in the U.S. The film reveals the staggering statistics in maternal healthcare that we are facing in the most advanced country in the world and how it’s affecting the families of Black women who are left behind.

The talkback panel featured women from Waco Family Medicine, and they discussed how the issues in the film are also seen in our community and what we can do to bring change.

This is what the three films have done. They’ve brought these stories that are not Waco stories but still are important for our community. Stories that bring together people from all walks of life and all ethnicities. I saw many different colors of skin in the room each night, which is so important for our community. In order to bring about the change that the song “Hold On” looks forward to, we need everyone to participate.

The organizers who brought this event together gave the people of Waco a beautiful experience that will leave a lasting impact. As the showcase concludes, the discussions remain open, and the unfinished business waits to be completed.

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