The 22nd Urbanworld Film Festival kicked off in NYC on September 19 and opened up with the NYC premiere of Night School. Cast members including Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, and Fat Joe were in the building, alongside director, Malcolm D. Lee, and producer, Will Packer.
The first film under Kevin Hart’s production company, Hartbeat Productions, sold out two theaters at the SVA Theater in order to accommodate all attendees. The film stars Tiffany Haddish as a teacher trying to help a group of misfit adults earn their GEDs, and Kevin Hart is one of her students.
While on the surface, the movie appears to be about a group of high school dropouts, it is really a story about determination, perseverance, and redemption. The movie highlights, that despite one’s struggles, we all have what it takes to succeed when we don’t give up on ourselves. Full of non-stop laughs the movie inspires hope and was the perfect way to kick off the film festival that seeks to promote films made by and starring people of color.
In total, the nation’s largest competitive multicultural film festival screened 76 selections, featured 4 original screenplay finalists and hosted digital, music and spotlight events. Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, Ava DuVernay, Amandla Stenberg, Algee Smith, Tasha Smith, Lil Rel Howery, Naturi Naughton, Tristin Wilds, John David Washington, Simone Missick, Boris Kodjoe, Mustafa Shakir, Adepero Oduye, April Reign, Joe Morton, Bilal, Ayo, Ray Angry of The Roots, directors Malcolm D. Lee and George Tillman, Jr., producers Donna Gigliotti, Nina Yang Bongiovi and Will Packer as well as journalist Elaine Welteroth were among the many that appeared throughout the five day festival this year.
The closing night spotlight included an advanced screening of Angie Thomas’ highly anticipated coming of age story, The Hate You Give. The story which is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, puts a focused lens on the killing of unarmed Black men by law enforcement when the protagonist, Starr, witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Amandla Sternberg who plays Starr Carter in the film gave a remarkable portrayal of the 16 year old protagonist. I encourage you to go and see this film when it hits theaters on October 19th. Take your children, make it a family date night and then go home and talk about it.
After the film, Ava Duvernay moderated a Q+A session with Amandla, Algee Smith, and the film’s director George Tillman Jr. I had a chance to chat with Amandla and asked her what she hoped audiences would take from this film. I also spoke with the director, George Tillman and he shared his thoughts on why it was important for him to make this film. You can check out all the highlights below.