'AfroPop" brings African Diaspora together through film and Internet

By Talia Whyte

Originally published in The Bay State Banner

The advent of new media tools have made the world a smaller place, and the National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC) is taking advantage of what it considers an opportunity with its new series, “AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange Program.”

The three-week program, premiering for Boston audiences Sunday night on WGBX Channel 44, shows documentary films that examine and celebrate different aspects of black identity as they are expressed around the world. The films also provide an alternative view of the African Diaspora rarely seen in the mainstream media.

Filmmaker Regi Allen was a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University when he traveled five years ago with a group of other African Americans from Pittsburgh to Ghana, Senegal and Ivory Coast to make “10 Days in Africa,” the premiere film in the “AfroPoP” series. The trip, he says, was a soul-searching experience not only for himself, but also for the people he met.

“It was a personal journey for me,” Allen said. “The trip brought down barriers … Connecting with Africa is important to me because the only thing I saw about Africa before the trip was AIDS and war.”

Misperceptions were on both sides.

“… And many Africans think African Americans are rich and didn’t have any connection with the continent,” he said.

“AfroPoP” will be hosted by someone who knows a little something about transcending identities — actor Idris Elba. Born to West African parents in London, Elba now lives in the United States, where he is one of Hollywood’s rising stars and perhaps best known for his role as Stringer Bell on the critically acclaimed HBO series “The Wire.” He says he was ecstatic when he was asked to take on hosting duties.

“I loved the idea of cultural exposure,” Elba said in a recent interview with the Banner. “I love truth. Many of the images we get are so slanted. I relished the opportunity to give accurate accounts of African life and true African interests.”

The NBPC sees “AfroPoP” as not only an opportunity to share some of the best documentaries being produced by the industry’s young black filmmakers, but also a chance for those displaced in the African Diaspora to talk to each other about commonalities.

“Hip Hop Revolution,” another “AfroPoP” film, examines how hip-hop culture has become a worldwide phenomenon, transcending black and colored communities in Cape Town, South Africa. South African filmmaker Weaam Williams says she wanted to show that just as black and Latino youth used hip-hop to speak out about urban blight during the 1980s, young South Africans also rhymed about the detrimental effects of apartheid during that same time period.

“I was inspired by the hip-hop artists in my community,” Williams said. “I wanted to show in my film that hip-hop is international. I also think there is a creative resurgence in Africa, and I wanted to tap into that.”

Elba agreed that hip-hop is universal, as well as infectious. When he is not acting in film and television he finds time to put on his other hat as DJ Driss to spin records at night clubs all around the country.

He actually started out as a DJ when he came to the United States in order to pay the bills while auditioning for acting roles. Now that his acting career has taken off, he continues to DJ for fun these days.

“I fell in love with hip-hop during the mid-80s,” he said. “There was this radio DJ in London, Dave Pierce, who had started an on-air freestyle battle. It became really popular and hard to call into. I got through and didn’t win, but was hooked on the music and making the music ever since.”

The NBPC is the leading provider of black-oriented programming on PBS. It has also been on the forefront of using new media to reach the public.

The organization hosted a new media training session last year working with WGBH in Jackson, Miss., where filmmakers could learn about implementing digital technology into their projects.

“AfroPoP” viewers can view segments of the films and interviews with the filmmakers online at www.blackpublicmedia.org, and can also leave comments and start conversations about them as well.

The series is just one example of how blacks around the world are connecting with each other.

Such discussions have seen an unprecedented spike this year due in part to the presidential aspirations of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, whom many members of the African Diaspora find inspiring and have embraced.

“First off, I want to say he’s a good leader who happens to be black, rather than a black leader who happens to be good,” Elba said. ”I feel politics is politics — it really has no color. He’s a dynamic person who is bringing a wind of change and happens to identify with who I am.”

“AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange Program” premieres Sunday, July 13 at 7 p.m. on WGBX Channel 44.

For more information, visit www.blackpublicmedia.org, or www.wgbh.org

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