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RogerEbert.com, Chicago Urban League, and Columbia College’s Link Up to Give Diverse Critics a Chance

shutterstock_939618071RogerEbert.com is collaborating once again with Columbia College’s high school journalism program and the Chicago Urban League in what Chaz Ebert calls “paving a pathway to the future.”

Student reviewers from the Columbia Links program will act as chief critics for the Urban League’s annual Black History Month Film Festival, which opens today. Their work will be widely disseminated on RogerEbert.com.

“But more importantly,” says Ebert, “they will be given the opportunity to interact with community leaders, established filmmakers, politicians, and others to help hone their perspectives on the arts and how that impacts the world around them. The purpose is to help them find their voice. We need voices that can speak deeply and with nuance because of their lived experiences. I want them to see themselves in the public discourse.”

The students will receive feedback from Columbia Links Executive Director Brenda Butler and RogerEbert.com Managing Editor Brian Tallerico. They are: Kinnedy Broughton (Lincoln Park High School); Dyana Daniels (Mother McAuley High School); and Messiah Young (Kenwood Academy). One student who participated in the first two years of this program, Brianna Williams, is now enrolled at Northwestern University on a four-year scholarship at Medill.

“Nothing could make me happier than to see this outcome for some of our other students,” Ebert adds.

The Black History Month Film Festival comes at a time of heightened debate over the lack of diversity among Academy Awards nominees and the # boycott threatened by some of Hollywood’s leading black actors. Recently at the Sundance Film Festival, “The Birth of a Nation,” a new film about the slave uprising led by Nat Turner, written and directed by black actor Nate Parker, won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award and sold for $17.5 million (Fox Searchlight Films), the highest in Sundance history.

“Representation by African American actors, filmmakers and critics is a necessary and ongoing discussion,” said Ebert. “And we must also involve the studio executives, financiers, unions and major publications. I think it’s beginning to happen now not only because of the Oscars but because people are frustrated by stilted progress — one step forward and, seemingly, two steps backward. It’s critically important to create pathways to ensure more diverse voices are being heard that influence which stories get green lit, supported and recognized. The Chicago Urban League has long advocated for this and I am pleased to collaborate with them once again.”

The theme of the Chicago Urban League Film Fest is “Journey through Black History: Connecting New and Past Generations.” This year’s lineup includes three feature-length documentaries that deal with racial stereotypes; modern-day slavery; connection to the African Diaspora; and activism. Find the complete festival schedule at thechicagourbanleague.org.

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