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Conversation with PAFF Founder, Ayuko Babu: 2019 Pan African Film Festival 
By Shaquille Woods, Contributing Writer
Published January 31, 2019

Co-Founder of PAFF, Ayuko Babu (Credit: Koi Sojer/Snap’N U Photos/Media Punch)

It’s one of the most prestigious Black film festivals in America. The annual Pan African Film & Arts Festival (PAFF) highlights the international influence of Black creativity. Since 1992, PAFF’s mission has been to reinforce positive images and help prevent negative stereotypes through the power of film.  

But film isn’t the only experience you’ll find at the event.  

Now on its 27th year, PAFF is expected to bring even more culture and celebrations where festivalgoers can enjoy spoken word, art shows and even a comedy night.  

The mastermind behind the festival is co-founder and executive director, Ayuko Babu. He is an international cultural, political, and legal consultant who specializes in Pan African affairs. Recently, the Los Angeles Sentinel Newspaper spoke to Babu about his role in developing PAFF. Just moments before interview, “Black Panther” and “BlacKkKlansman” were nominated for the Oscar’s Best Picture.  

Los Angeles Sentinel Newspaper (LAS): The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences just revealed the Oscar nominations. What’s your opinion on the Black films that were nominated? 

Ayuko Babu (AB): I am optimistic but guarded. Both “Black Panther” and “BlacKkKlansman” are important films. Black Panther incorporates the entire Pan African consciousness involving all Black people in the world as brothers and sisters. We have to be very aware. They only responded because we raised the question. The Black community around the world raised it. Not only do we want diversity, we want to make sure that extends from the front to the back. From lawyers, writers, banks, all across the board. We must continue to remain vigilant.  

LAS: What inspired the festival’s creation? 

AB: We come from the 60s. That means we come from the perspective of, ‘what is the institution doing for us?’ We took that consciousness and applied all of it to film. If the number one cultural expression in the world today is film, then we have to say, where are we in terms of the big and little screen? That’s because most people are influenced by movies. So therefore, we had that same commitment we had in the Civil Rights Era and we applied that to film.  

LAS: That’s a great initiative!  

AB: Thanks. We’ve been seeing Black films all across the world. We made a conscious political decision that there was a need for Black folks to begin to institutionalize the film business. A film festival is when you first start to gain some influence. The film festival shows the distributors that there is a wide Black audience. We decided to show there was an interest. We felt there was a need, especially during Black History Month.   

LAS: How would you describe the festival to someone who’s never been? 

AB:  It’s a cultural explosion. It’s a way to showcase our creativity and expression reigning from fashion to jewelry to fine arts, to film. You will see the whole range of our expressions.  

Ayuko Babe, Mario Van Peebles, Wale Ojo at the 2018 Pan African Film Festival ”Black Panther’ Screening at Cinemark Baldwin Hills 15 on February 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Credit: Koi Sojer/Snap’N U Photos/Media Punch)

LAS: How has the festival changed over the years from your perspective?  

AB: It’s easier to make a film today. You have more accessibility. Today, creators have a deeper understanding of the art. That gives us a deep insight to ourselves. People in Hollywood tend to go with stereotypes. We are not the buffoonery. We ask ourselves, ‘does it speak to our spirit? Does it speak to our insights?’  

LAS: I read that a special screening is happening opening night? 

AB: Our opening night film is fantastic! We have been graced with the opportunity to screen Aretha Franklin’s gospel concert. It will be the complete film of the concert she did with the California Community Choir. It should not be missed. It happens on February 7.  

The festival begins Thursday, Feb. 7, and ends on Monday, Feb. 18.  For more info on the festival and ticket inquiries, visit www.paaf.org.

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