When executive producer Lakayana Yotoma Drury started working on the documentary The Black Stars, he was driven by one goal: “This is not going to be a film of Black death or Black pain. This is going to be a journey of hope. We’re not going to make a spectacle about it.”
In The Black Stars, which screens Feb. 9 at Alberta Abbey and Feb. 24 at the Clinton Street Theater, eight young Black men embark on a trip to Ghana as part of a summer leadership program created by Word Is Bond, a Portland nonprofit that seeks to empower young Black men.
“I was like, this has documentary written all over it, taking these young men from Portland to Ghana,” Drury, Word Is Bond’s founder and executive director, tells WW.
The trip to Ghana took place last summer. Documenting the journey was Twixx Williams, a Jefferson High School graduate who was 21 years old when Drury picked him to direct the film.
“It was just really clear right away that this was our guy: a self-taught young Black man. That embodies everything Word Is Bond is about,” Drury says. “Our mission statement is, ‘What if young Black men were empowered to their fullest potential?’ And Twixx is an answer to that question.”
While the men in the film were united in a common purpose, Drury says they each represented unique perspectives. All of them, Drury says, felt the impact of journeying from a city where they often feel “tokenized” to Ghana, which none of them had experienced as adults.
“Everyone just wanted to have a conversation with you and was just saying, ‘Where are you from? Welcome home. We’re glad you’re here,’” Drury notes. “In Portland, a lot of people don’t say hi, don’t make eye contact, ask you how your day was.”
Other parts of the experience were more challenging, like when the men, in one of the most devastating and important scenes in the film, visit a river where slaves were forced to bathe before being auctioned off.
“How Twixx pulled it together cinematically—in addition to it being very powerful spiritually being there—was really beautiful,” Drury says.
Last month, The Black Stars premiered at the Hollywood Theatre, an experience Drury says was just as moving as making the film. “Everyone kept saying, ‘This is the biggest room of Black folks I’ve met in my whole time in Oregon,’” he recalls. “We weren’t marking the anniversary of [George Floyd’s murder]. It wasn’t some somber note. It was like, no, we’re celebrating a film of Black excellence.”
Drury has big plans for The Black Stars. This summer, he intends to release it for free on YouTube, and he hopes teachers will show it to their students. But right now, he’s focused on screening the film in theaters and celebrating the impact it has had on the lives of the young men it portrays.
“They each wrote reports on their experience,” he says. “And one of them said, ‘I’ve always been proud to be Black, but going to Ghana really brought it home. And I felt proud on a whole other level, just seeing how the Ghanaian people take pride in their culture and the things they’ve accomplished and the things they’ve overcome.’”
SEE IT: The Black Stars screens at Alberta Abbey, 126 NE Alberta St., albertaabbey.org. 6:30 pm Friday, Feb. 9. $10–$20. The film returns to the big screen at the Clinton Street Theater on Feb. 24.