Sankofa Film Festival comes to a close


The Africana Studies Program hosted The Sankofa Film Festival, a month-long event that showcased films of prolific Black figures during the Civil Rights movement. (Wyatt Bible/The Collegian)

“And Still I Rise” is a 2016 documentary in which Maya Angelou opened up about her traumatic experiences that tore her down, but granted her the chance to have the courage to build herself back up. In doing this, she was able to make a difference in a world that, at the time, believed in segregation and inequality.

In the film, Angelou said one of her earliest memories as a child was being given away by her parents at the age of 3.

“I just declared my mother dead so that I wouldn’t have to long for her,” Angelou said in the documentary.

She talked about the emotional scarring of having to walk past white communities as a Black child.

Meta Schettler, professor of Africana Studies, told the audience, “I got into my field because of the example set by both Black and White activists during the civil rights movements.”

Schettler, who is also the program coordinator for the Africana Studies Program, emphasized the importance of Black History Month being a learning opportunity for all students at Fresno State.

The Sankofa Film Festival served as an outlet that was available to students who wanted to gain more knowledge on the fight for racial justice. This was an event held at Fresno State, celebrating “Black Resistance,” the national theme of Black History Month. This event gave students an open environment where they could watch films and carry out collaborative discussions about Black History.

Three films were shown in the Alice Peters auditorium: “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise,” “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” and “One Night in Miami,” a film about Malcolm X. These films portrayed the adversity activists were faced with when advocating for civil rights. In Malcom X’s case, it cost him his life. He was 39 when he was assassinated, leaving behind his children and wife.

When she reconciled with her parents at the age of 7, Angelou said that she was repeatedly raped by her mother’s boyfriend.

The day her rapist was found dead, she blamed herself and stopped speaking completely for five years.

This was when the birth of her relationship with poetry began.

“Out of evil, there can come good,” Angelou said in the film.

Angelou grew up during segregation in America. Schools were separated for Black and white students.

In the five years that she stopped speaking, Angelou read all of the books in the Black school libraries, all the books she could get from white school libraries. She memorized entire Shakespeare plays and Edgar Allan Poe poems. She found her voice through reading.

“When I decided to speak… I had a lot to say,” Angelou said in the documentary.

The rest is history.

She blossomed into the actress, dancer, poet and activist that she is remembered for today.

Angelou worked with other civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X.

She wrote and performed poetry at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton. She was one of the first people to publish in the Black Women Literary Renaissance of the 1970s. Her most famous book is titled, “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.”

“She opened the door to this whole wave of Black women writers who came after her,” Schettler said.

She told The Collegian that it was encouraging, listening to Angelou tell her story so openly in the documentary.

When the documentary ended, a discussion took place. The audience shared their thoughts on the film.

“She loved to love,” said Debay Tadesse, faculty member of the Africana Studies Program.

Tadesse said after watching the film that Angelou was somebody who discovered the joy and beauty within herself at a very early age.

The documentary made Tadesse reflect on the process of learning. He said he felt it was amazing the way that books changed her life.

“The most important aspect in learning is actually changing,” Tadesse said.

Angelou passed away at 86 years old in 2014, leaving behind a legacy.

“One Night in Miami” is a film that focused on the weight of the world that seemingly fell on the shoulders of successful Black men during the 1970s.

Activist Malcom X, singer Sam Cook, professional football player Jim Brown and professional boxer Muhammad Ali were all men of color that were incredibly gifted.

It was extra dangerous for these men to be alive during this time. They were all targets because they challenged racism through their ability to win and be successful. In a world that wanted to dehumanize people of color, the identity of each of these men rebelled against that.

“Fame and winning gave these men more freedom,” Tadesse said.

Both faculty members from the Africana Studies Program said that the issues from the film are still relevant today.

Schettler says the world is going through a moment of cultural backlash, but she focused on the positives.

“People who fight for racial justice will be more motivated than ever before,” she said.

Schettler ends the discussion by saying she wishes people were more open-minded and open-hearted to learning about diversity.

“What we don’t know, we fear,” she said.