The Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs is kicking off Black History Month Friday evening with F.R.O. Fest, which stands for “Films Reflecting Ourselves.” The festival is the second annual student film screening hosted by CBCSA at the Fisher Museum of Art.
The theme of this year’s festival is “defining blackness.” CBCSA Assistant Director Theo Fowles said he created the festival last year in honor of the center’s 40th anniversary.
“As a [School of Cinematic Arts] alum, I thought [F.R.O. Fest] would be an amazing opportunity for us to highlight … students of color, specifically black students that were writing, directing and producing here on campus,” Fowles said.
Fowles said CBCSA received 12 film submissions this year. Six films spanning a variety of topics from gang rivalries to online dating were named “official selections,” and four other films received honorable mentions. Following a presentation of the six films, audience members will have an opportunity to hear from the creators in a panel discussion hosted by two students.
Rhayme Spencer, a senior majoring in theatre, will be one of the co-hosts, along with Saphia Jackson, a senior majoring in public policy. Spencer, who is pursuing a cinematic arts minor, said he asked to host after Fowles approached him for help with the festival.
“We will have one representative from each film to talk about the process and how much work and dedication … went into every single project,” Spencer said. “[We want to] open … a dialogue between creators and the audience.”
Spencer said he also helped select this year’s films, which cover a variety of styles, from feature-length shorts to music videos. He said he thinks the festival is an important platform for black creators to see their work recognized, especially during awards season.
“It’s always nice to see people of color on screen doing literally anything,” Spencer said. “I think it’s nice to have this festival, so people who show up and watch these films can relate to something.”
Jabree Webber, a third-year graduate student studying cinematic arts, film and television production, is one of this year’s filmmakers. Her film, “It Happened One Night,” follows the story of a woman who has been sexually assaulted in a future where Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion rights case, has been overturned.
Webber said she was inspired to make the film after she heard about sexual misconduct allegations against former campus gynecologist George Tyndall. She said she set a budget of $2,500 for the film because that was the minimum amount allocated to former patients of Tyndall’s in the University’s $215 million settlement last October.
“Having learned recently about all the allegations, I felt charged to continue the conversation and raise awareness about sexual assault,” Webber said. “In the film, it sort of explores how she is offered a settlement as well, and she has to grapple with taking it as a way to … erase the damage that has been done to her.”
Webber, who produced, wrote and directed her film, spoke about the importance of including a story of sexual assault in this year’s lineup.
“As a black woman, I feel like we are often not included in the conversation when it comes to assault,” Webber said. “I really think that this film is important to include … It shows us being vulnerable.”
Brianna Devons, a junior majoring in communication, co-wrote and directed a music video to “Fireworks in Tha Hood,” a 2015 song by singer and rapper Ventage about her experience growing up in Inglewood. The short film explores the rivalry between the Bloods and Crips gangs, set in a hunter-gatherer-like society in the woods.
“I felt like her message [was] so powerful that it needed a visual component to it,” Devons said.
Devons, who is currently in Rome and unable to attend the festival, said she hopes F.R.O. Fest will bring the USC community together.
“I feel like at USC … there’s a secondary space for the black community,” Devons said. “Hopefully the people that attend the festival will not just be black people, but people that are interested in hearing these stories.”
Fowles said the festival received an increased number of submissions from last year, and he hopes F.R.O. Fest continues to grow. He said next year, submissions may open up to recent alumni in addition to current students.
“What I want people to consistently get … through F.R.O. Fest is that blackness looks different ways to different people,” Fowles said. “It’s oftentimes what people don’t expect it to be … so I wanted to be able to highlight those stories … through film.”
This story is part of the Daily Trojan’s special coverage for Black History Month. It will run periodically throughout February.