New York, New York (Nov. 20, 2017) – The American Black Film Festival (ABFF) and Lightbox, the award-winning U.S. and U.K. production company, today announced that director Muta’Ali is the recipient of their first annual documentary film development fund. Muta’Ali will work with Lightbox and ABFF to develop his feature documentary Storm Over Brooklyn.
The ABFF Lightbox Documentary Initiative was launched earlier this year to support and foster documentary filmmakers with diverse voices and perspectives and is sponsored by 21st Century Fox and National Geographic.
Muta’Ali’s Storm Over Brooklyn, was selected from over 200 submissions for documentary films that covered a wide range of topics that reflect the experiences of people of color today. ABFF and Lightbox hope to get the film funded and finished in time to have its world premiere at the 23rd annual American Black Film Festival in Miami in June 2019.
Storm Over Brooklyn will revisit the story of Yusuf Hawkins, a black American teenager who was shot to death after being trapped by a group of white youths in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, on the evening of August 23, 1989. Hawkins had come to Bensonhurst with three friends that day to look at a used car when they were attacked by the hostile mob, whose members mistakenly believed that Hawkins was dating a neighborhood girl who was white. The incident shocked New York and the nation, and unleashed a torrent of racial tension in an already divided city and led to nationally televised protests and marches led by the Rev. Al Sharpton. The growing unrest indubitably contributed to the ousting of New York City Mayor Ed Koch in favor of David Dinkins, who became the city’s first — and as of now, only — African-American mayor. Hawkins was just 16 years old at the time of his death.
“2019 will mark the 30th anniversary of Yusuf Hawkins’ death and all these years later, it is fair to say, we are still living in very precarious times,” said Jeff Friday, founder and CEO, ABFF Ventures. “We were incredibly moved by the relevance and power of this story and Muta’Ali’s vision for the film. The ABFF Lightbox Documentary Film Initiative is an extension of what I started with the American Black Film Festival, and I am delighted to be able to provide this new platform in partnership with Lightbox, and we are deeply grateful to National Geographic and 21st Century Fox for standing behind this meaningful initiative.”
Lightbox’s Jonathan Chinn added, “I was immediately impressed with Muta’Ali’s passion and creative ambition for the film. The fact that he has already secured Yusuf’s family’s blessing and their active participation in the film along with the participation of many of the key players in the story points to a film that cannot only enter the ongoing conversation we are still having about racial discrimination in America, but that can do justice to the memory and legacy of Yusuf Hawkins. Lightbox and ABFF are thrilled to be collaborating with Muta’Ali on this important and timely film.”
Lightbox and initiative sponsor National Geographic recently collaborated on the Emmy Award-winning feature documentary LA 92, which used only archival footage to tell the story of the lead-up and conflagration of the civil unrest in Los Angeles in 1992 that followed the acquittal of four white LAPD officers accused of beating Rodney King. LA 92 has recently been nominated for a Cinema Eye Award and two International Documentary Association Awards, including the award for Best Feature.
“National Geographic is thrilled to be part of this year’s inaugural competition, and the selection of Muta’Ali as this year’s winner is a perfect choice,” said Tim Pastore, president of original programming and production for National Geographic Channel. “Nurturing up-and-coming talent is incredibly important to us at National Geographic, and working with Lightbox and ABFF on this initiative and discovering filmmakers like Muta’Ali is really exciting.”
Muta’Ali hails from Westchester County, New York. His debut film, “Life’s Essentials With Ruby Dee,” a documentary about his late grandmother, featured notable subjects including Harry Belafonte, Alan Alda, Phylicia Rashad and Spike Lee. His goal is to have his artistic body of work be wholly focused on what he calls “Love, Art & Activism.” In response to winning the ABFF Lightbox Documentary Film Initiative, Muta’Ali stated, “I am thrilled to have been selected as the first beneficiary of this important initiative. Jeff and Jonathan are the ideal partners to help me take the complex story of Yusuf Hawkins and his killing out of my head and onto screens. I have the utmost respect and appreciation for this opportunity and I look forward to creating a film that is true to who Yusuf was and true to all the people who have fought for equality in his name.”