JENEÉ OSTERHELDT

Series highlighting local filmmaking promotes Black History Month

Updated: 2014-01-30T00:52:50Z

By JENEÉ OSTERHELDT

The Kansas City Star

2013. The big year in black films. Everybody is still talking about it.

“Fruitvale Station,” “Mandela,” “Lee Daniel’s The Butler” and more rushed the box office. But the Oscars snubbed all but one: “12 Years a Slave.” It’s disheartening, but it doesn’t take away from the strides toward diversity on the silver screen.

Too often we let awards season dictate the movies we should see, but there’s so much out there to be celebrated. Screens big and small are embracing different stories, different people. (Hey, Kevin Hart’s “Ride Along” had the biggest January opening ever.) It’s important that we take it upon ourselves to celebrate those stories, with or without the gold statue.

We just have to take time to notice that these films are not just black films, they are human stories. People learn about other cultures by watching movies and television. Some say “The Cosby Show” changed society’s perception of blacks in America, and “24” helped people imagine the possibility of a black president.

Movies unite us. We relate to one another through the tears and laughter that come about in theaters.

Jerry Rapp, former president of CinemaKC ( cinemakc.com), a Kansas City nonprofit dedicated to local film, says it is important to create awareness for all movies. He says there is no room for separatism. The group has done cinematic events for everyone from the hearing impaired to refugees. Film is for everyone.

During Black History Month, CinemaKC is hosting a film series at Screenland Crown Center, highlighting local filmmakers.

“If there is any place to find diversity, it is in filmmaking,” Rapp says. “Especially in Kansas City, where you have filmmakers young and old, women, men, kids and across all cultural groups. It’s important to celebrate and encourage different voices. When there are niche films that are specialized that people aren’t getting to see for one reason or another, we like to raise awareness to it.”

You can see a different film at 11 a.m. every Saturday in February at Screenland Crown Center. There will be Q&As with the filmmakers at each screening. A $10 donation benefits CinemaKC. The schedule:

• “Chocolate Me,” Saturday: The documentary is inspired by the children’s book of the same name, illustrated by Kansas City artist Shane Evans and written by his friend, actor Taye Diggs. It’s an inspiring family event with a message to see beyond skin color. There will be a book signing with Shane and a short discussion after. chocolatemetoo.com

• “Freedom Seekers: Stories From the Underground Railroad,” Feb. 8: Gary Jenkins explores how Kansas and Missouri played a role in the Underground Railroad along the Western frontier. The film also delves into Quindaro, the Kansas town where every resident took part in helping slaves to freedom. lifedocumentaries.com

• “Still Jammin’ ,” Feb. 15: Stinson McClendon’s documentary is a jazzy tribute to the history of the Mutual Musicians Foundation, tracing it all the way back to its days as the Musicians Protective Union Local No. 627, which counted Charlie Parker, Lester Young and Count Basie among its members. In addition to the documentary, the American Jazz Museum also presents a grab bag of vintage jazz shorts from the John Baker Collection. babyefilms.com

• “Destination: Planet Negro!” Feb. 22: Kevin Willmott’s sci-fi satire makes its debut. It’s said to have the vibe of the low-budget science fiction of the ’50s and involves a rocketship trip to Mars in an effort to create a new planet for blacks — a plan cooked up by George Washington Carver. It sounds interesting, to say the least. planetnegro.com

By the way

The Kansas City Library and the Black Archives present “From Slave Ship to Harvard” from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday. Author James Johnston, an Independence native, will discuss his book about an African- American family in Maryland over six generations. RSVP to info@blackarchives.org.

Jeneé Osterheldt’s column runs on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. To reach her, call 816-234-4380 or send email to josterheldt@kcstar.com. “Like” her page on Facebook and never miss a column. You also can follow her at Twitter.com/jeneeinkc.

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