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Hollywood Next: Jeff Friday’s American Black Film Festival Fuels The Future

By Ronda Racha Penrice, Urban News Service

When Jeff Friday traveled to his first Sundance Film Festival to catch Love Jones in 1997, what struck him most is what he didn’t see.

“I returned from Sundance very inspired by what I saw there, but what I did not see was filmmakers of color,” says Friday. “So I came back to New York inspired to create something like it that really served as a platform for black filmmakers.” That’s when Friday first envisioned the American Black Film Festival.

Back then, the Newark native and Howard University alumnus — who holds an MBA from New York University — worked as a high-ranking advertising executive at the black-owned UniWorld Group. There, he oversaw marketing campaigns targeting African-American moviegoers. Mexico’s Ministry of Tourism, a UniWorld client, loved the concept and hosted the event in Acapulco.

Ninety people, including longtime supporters Bill Duke and Robert Townsend, attended that very first Acapulco Black Film Festival. Nearly 800 arrived the next year, and 3,500 attended in 2001. The festival moved to Miami Beach in 2002 and domesticated its name to the American Black Film Festival. From South Beach to L.A. and New York City, the site of 2015’s gathering, between 5,000 and 10,000 regularly attend.

While there are many other black-oriented film festivals, Friday’s uniquely integrates black Hollywood veterans, new talent and numerous corporate partners.

“The artistic community, the actors, the writers, the producers, the directors, they all support us, and the corporate community,” says Friday. “You need companies to support [the festival], so we’ve been very, very successful at getting companies to understand the importance of the mission, the importance of diversity. This was before #OscarsSoWhite, so it was a little more difficult getting companies to understand the importance of inclusion in film and TV.”

Founding partner HBO, known for its signature HBO Short Film Competition, got it from the start. The festival also has welcomed, among others, Fox Searchlight, Starz, TV One and Universal. In addition, it has sought non-traditional partnerships. Cadillac has been a long-term partner. And, this year, McDonald’s sponsored the “My Community” national video competition for aspiring black filmmakers, giving them a chance to be mentored by The Best Man writer/director Malcolm D. Lee. Prudential presented a seminar with Oscar-nominated costume designer Ruth E. Carter (Malcolm X, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Black Panther).

The players may change, but the festival’s primary mission never does. “This was always about empowering people of color to make movies and being a platform for supporting the next generation,” Friday says.

Actress Emayatzy Corinealdi remembers this support the most. “They’re about nurturing you and giving you opportunities,” says Corinealdi, winner of the 2010 Rising Star award, a festival honor first given to Halle Berry. Corinealdi’s recent credits include Roots and Miles Ahead.

Producer Will Packer (Uncle Buck, Think Like a Man) and actor/director Nate Parker (The Great Debaters, Red Tails) are other talents whom this festival embraced early on. And they give back. At this year’s gathering, Packer hosted a “first look” for his latest film, Almost Christmas. Parker did the same with his highly anticipated Nat Turner slave-rebellion film, The Birth of a Nation. Corinealdi was a “Black Women in Hollywood” panelist.

Serving the black film community beyond the festival is very much on Friday’s mind these days. To honor black Hollywood pioneers and welcome new talent, Friday and his team conceived the ABFF Awards as a private dinner long before the #OscarsSoWhite firestorm resulted in BET televising the affair this past February. That successful partnership led to the inaugural ABFF Encore during the 2016 BET Experience, which supports the BET Awards. Standouts included a master class with Black-ish creator Kenya Barris and indie pleaser Destined from this year’s festival.

Other efforts include the short film showcase ABFF Independent on the Magic Johnson-owned network Aspire, as well the series For the Love on Comcast/Infinity, featuring industry interviews with such shakers as Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil, the husband-and-wife team known for Being Mary Jane and The Game.

Friday is also confident that a more embracing Hollywood vanguard — like the Oscar-granting Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ recent membership invitation to a record number of black film professionals — won’t drop the curtain on the American Black Film Festival.

“The general market can’t possibly serve our community like we can serve our own, and I promise that won’t change,” Friday says. “We will always have a space to focus on our own.”

Stanford Researchers Develop New Statistical Test That Shows Racial Profiling In Police Traffic Stops

By Edmund Andrews

By analyzing data from 4.5 million traffic stops in 100 North Carolina cities, Stanford researchers have found that police in that state are more likely to search black and Hispanic motorists, using a lower threshold of suspicion, than when they stop white or Asian drivers.

The empirical study found that while blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be searched, those more numerous searches are less likely to uncover illegal drugs or weapons than searches of vehicles with white or Asian drivers.

Studies based on the incidence of searches by race, and the outcomes of those searches, have been done in the past, forming the basis for concerns about racial profiling by police.

But the Stanford team – graduate students Camelia Simoiu and Sam Corbett-Davies, and assistant professor of management science and engineeringSharad Goel – developed a third, entirely new measurement called a threshold test.

The researchers show that this new measure offers a statistically rigorous way to quantify how suspicious officers were to initiate a search. For example, did officers conduct searches when there was a 15 percent probability of finding weapons or drugs, or was a 5 percent inkling enough? They correlated these threshold assessments to the race or ethnicity of the subjects across the entire dataset of 4.5 million motor vehicle stops.

“Our threshold test suggests that officers apply a double standard when deciding whom to search, with black and Hispanic drivers searched on the basis of less evidence than whites and Asians,” said Simoiu, adding, “We consistently observe this pattern of behavior across the largest 100 police departments in the state.”

The study marks a new milestone in Stanford’s Project on Law, Order and Algorithms, which has already collected data on 50 million traffic stops in 11 states and is aiming to expand the database to 100 million stops from at least 30 states and every region of the Unites States. The purpose of the database, which the researchers plan to make publicly available, is to shed light on the prevalence of racial profiling and to identify techniques for improving police practices.

In the case of North Carolina, the researchers obtained records for traffic stops in the state from 2009 through 2014. The records included information about the ethnicity, age and gender of the people being pulled over and at least some information on the rationale of police officers for searching particular people and vehicles.

Racial differences

Until now, analysts have used two fairly simple statistical tests to look for patterns of racial profiling.

The first test, known as benchmarking, involves comparing search rates for people of different ethnicities. If blacks account for 10 percent of the local population but 30 percent of searches, that higher incidence would be evidence of discrimination. A second test examines the “hit” rate or outcome – the percentage of searches that actually lead to the discovery of weapons, drugs or other illegal contraband.

In North Carolina, both statistical tests provided strong evidence of unfounded racial discrimination. Police searched 5.4 percent of blacks and 4.1 percent of the Hispanics they pulled over, but only 3.1 percent of whites. In many cities and towns, however, searches of blacks and Hispanics were actually less likely to uncover contraband than searches of whites.

But even when both tests converge, this analysis has limitations. If a higher percentage of people in one ethnic group actually do carry illegal drugs or weapons, for example, a higher search rate for that group may not reflect racial discrimination.

So the Stanford researchers went further than prior studies to get a more accurate view of the presence or absence of unfounded discrimination.

They did this by developing a complex statistical tool they call a threshold test. It analyzed four variables for each of the 4.5 million stops:

  • Race of the driver
  • Department of the officer making the stop
  • Whether the stop resulted in a search – and, if a search occurred,
  • Whether it turned up drugs, guns or other contraband

These four variables provided a statistical snapshot of an officer’s threshold of suspicion before searching a person of a given race. As the authors wrote: “In nearly every one of the 100 departments we consider, we find that black and Hispanic drivers are subjected to a lower search threshold than whites, suggestive of widespread discrimination against these groups.”

Specifically, the study found that police decided to search black drivers based on a 7 percent certainty that they might be hiding something illegal. If an African American driver looks nervous, for example, police might interpret the nervousness as a sign of possible guilt and insist on a search.

For Hispanics, the search threshold was 6 percent certainty. But police in these 100 North Carolina cities wanted a 15 percent certainty before searching the vehicles of white drivers. The threshold for searching Asians was about the same as for whites.

Suspicions and searches

The finding has important implications, the researchers noted.

Had North Carolina’s police applied the same standard of suspicion to blacks as whites, the researchers estimate that they would have searched 30 percent fewer black drivers – about 30,000 people over the six years they study. Hispanics would have experienced a 50 percent reduction in searches affecting 8,000 drivers.

But while the new test reveals that the threshold of suspicion varies by race, the authors note a caveat.

“We cannot, however, definitively conclude that the disparities we see stem from racial bias,” they wrote. “For example, officers might instead be applying lower search thresholds to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, a demographic that is disproportionately black and Hispanic.”

The Stanford researchers are collecting traffic stop data from other states to see what patterns are revealed by their analyses. They are also considering ways to apply their new statistical methods to other settings where race or ethnicity may be a factor, such as mortgage lending and hiring.

“We hope our results spur further investigation into allegations of police discrimination, and help improve public policy,” Goel said.

 

SSI/SSP Increase Advances to Senate Appropriations

nadineSACRAMENTO, CA – AB 1584 by Assemblymember Cheryl R. Brown (D-San Bernardino) moves to the Senate Appropriations Committee after receiving unanimous support in the Senate Human Services Committee. The bill would reinstate the cost of living adjustment for the Social Security Insurance/State Supplemental Payment (SSI/SSP) grant, and lift an estimated 1.3 million Californians out of poverty.

“I want to thank my colleagues in the Senate for their advocacy on behalf on of California’s seniors,” Assemblymember Brown said. “This legislation will lift over one million seniors and adults with disabilities out of poverty.”

SSI/SSP grants assist seniors and other disabled Californians who are unable to work.  These benefits, administered by the Social Security Administration, provide income support to individuals who are over 65, blind or disabled. These grants are also available to qualified blind or disabled children.  Starting in 2008, cuts made by the Legislature and the Governor reduced grants to amounts well below the federal poverty level.

“As a society, we have a responsibility to ensure that our seniors can age with dignity,” Assemblymember Brown said.  “AB 1584 is a small step toward the full restoration of recession era cuts to the SSI/SSP program, as well as preparation for the upcoming silver tsunami.”