Celebrities And Power At Sundance: The Stories Behind The Stories That Will Impact Culture In 2019

Written by Lauren DeLisa Coleman

Sundance Film Festival 2019 is, of course, all about the film screenings, tastemaker events, private studio dinners and gifting suites, but this festival is just as much about thought leadership and insights around meaningful film topics.

It’s a continuous whirlwind of panels and fireside chats with notables both in front of and behind the cameras. Here are a few that incorporated inclusion.

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The Macro Ventures lodge on Main Street is buzzing with a revolving door-level of activity.  The nouveau-style production company helmed by former Hollywood agent Charles King and funded by Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective, hosted the world premiere and fireside chat of “Boomerang”, the half-hour comedy executive-produced by Lena Waithe.  The fireside chat included Waithe, Executive Producer/Showrunner Ben Cory Jones and Director Dime Davis. “Boomerang” is scheduled for release in February on BET.

Sundance Film
On the set of “Boomerang” the half-hour comedy executive-produced by Lena Waithe. Courtesy of BET

In addition, Macro hosted an intimate conversation with actress Jada Pinkett Smith and Kibi Anderson, president of the Red Table Talk show starring Smith, her mom and daughter. In addition, Planned Parenthood Federation of America together with Macro hosted a talk entitled “Our Bodies, Our Stories: A Celebration of Unstoppable Black Women in TV and Film.” The panel featured Planned Parenthood and filmmakers Chinonye Chukwu (“Clemency”) and Dawn Porter (“Trapped”). Discussion centered on the experiences of Black women, celebrated Black women creators, and why we need more stories about bodily autonomy.

Topics ranged from the need to tell stories about Black women in the South who often struggle to access safe, legal abortion to the emotional toll many Black woman face. The panelists also discussed how to humanize women of color on screen so that they’re not just defined by their race and gender.

“I believe art is supposed to instigate change and move the conversation forward,” said Chinonye Chukwu, director of the film “Clemency” featuring Alfre Woodard and Danielle Brooks, which premiered at Sundance. “I’m interested in creating unique, engaging stories with Black women at the center that are navigating stories and arcs that are about more than just their race and gender.”

Meanwhile at Blackhouse Foundation lodge, the cast of BET’s “American Soul” gathered for a panel discussion that included the show’s executive producer Jesse Collins, creator and co-showrunner Devon Greggory, actors Sinqua Walls (Don Cornelius), Kelly Price (Brianne Clarke), and Jason Dirden (Gerald Aims). 

“American Soul” examines the struggle to make the dream of the legendary TV dance show “Soul Train” a reality. The panelists discussed the experience around creating the program, challenges in Hollywood today and the power of Black music in America and around the world.

In addition, AT&T Dream In Black presented the Dream In Black Sunday brunch. The brunch kicked off with a dynamic rendition of “Precious Lord” by nine-time Grammy-nominated R&B singer Kelly Price. An in-depth discussion followed led by Terrence J about the impact of “Amazing Grace”, a documentary focused on the late Aretha Franklin. The documentary includes an awe-inspiring performance with the choir at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Watts, Los Angeles in January 1972. Attendees were some of the first to see a 10-minute clip of the film which was presented by Tirrell Whittley, producer of the new documentary.

Finally, IndieWire Studio presented by Dropbox is jam-packed daily with celebrities as they chat on panels and one-on-ones about their various projects. Notables such as Awkwafina, Malin Akerman, David Arquette, Rosanna Arquette, Anna Chlumsky, David Crosby, Cameron Crowe, Billy Crudup, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tony Hale, Julianne Moore, Jada Pinkett Smith, Peter Sarsgaard, Martin Starr, Michelle Williams and many more are on hand.

The ACLU has a special area at the venue, however, where celebrities can hold various signage and pose for photos to help drive awareness around various important civil and social issues in America today.

This is about the stories behind the stories that will impact culture across America during 2019.