Urban Slight

Denver rolled out the carpet for All-Star Weekend, but it's still not enough for urban-film distributors.

"With the success of films like 8 Mile, urban films have become a commodity," Ekundayo says. "So there is this growing perception that hip-hop-genre films, they don't need festivals anymore, at least not festivals without an enormous name. Even the small indie films with no distribution deal want to expose their films on a bigger scale, because they know there's such a demand right now. They don't want to come to Denver, to some small festival, especially a conscious pan-African one."

In spite of the obstacles they have encountered, Ekundayo and company have already arranged a series of intriguing panel discussions for the week-long fest, including "Revolutionary Rappers: Where Are They Now?," focusing on the descent of rap from revolution to consumerism, and "What the ^#@$% Is a Tip Drill?," a look at the objectification of women in rap videos that will feature video directors as well as the women in the videos themselves. Ekundayo also recently nailed down the festival's opening film, Jordan Walker-Pearlman's Constellation, which stars Billy Dee Williams and Gabrielle Union and depicts an African-American family in the Deep South that is forced to come to terms with an interracial affair.

Très hip-hop: Starz Denver Pan African Film Festival 
founder Ashara Ekundayo.
Mark Manger
Très hip-hop: Starz Denver Pan African Film Festival founder Ashara Ekundayo.

"They're really excited about opening up a festival," Ekundayo says. "They think it's a prestigious thing; they're sending us their stars and everything. I was like, yes, this is how things are supposed to work...I almost feel that the culture of hip-hop has been so usurped and manipulated that the people whose culture it is can't even access it. It's like we've sold hip-hop, and now we can't afford to get it back. This festival has definitely presented a challenge that I was not anticipating."

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