ABOVE: (L-R) Floyd Rance, Stephanie Rance, Anthony Bowling and Rita Cooper Lee speak during the 21st Annual Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival on August 11, 2023 in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. (Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images for MVAAFF)
Dubbed “Black Hollywood” because of the celebrities it attracts, the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival recently celebrated 21 years of cinematic excellence. The Film Festival, which is always held during the first two weeks in August, boasted an impactful itinerary and lineup. Films addressed a wide span of topics like mental health, Black women’s health, Black farmers, and the celebration of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. Beyond the artistic and cultural significance, the festival also has a substantial economic impact on Martha’s Vineyard, an historic enclave for African Americans. The influx of festivalgoers benefits local businesses, including hotels, restaurants, and transportation services. The festival is known to showcase exceptional films but is also a stomping ground for fostering networking and business opportunities.
Martha’s Vineyard is a longtime New England summer colony and is only accessible by boat or air. Last year, for the festival’s 20th anniversary, Barack and Michelle Obama surprised attendees during opening night. This year, the festival once again welcomed filmmakers, industry professionals and film enthusiasts from all over. This time, however, the film festival unveiled another very special guest to honor hip-hop’s 50th birthday –MC Lyte.
The 2023 Martha’s Vineyard African American Festival tapped the iconic MC to salute her fellow pioneering women of hip hop with an opening night screening of Netflix’s Ladies First: A Story of Women in Hip-Hop. The documentary series, executive produced by MC Lyte celebrates #HipHop50 and details the influence of women on hip-hop music and culture. Held at Martha’s Vineyard Performing Arts Center, festival attendees who attended the opening night screening of Ladies First were welcomed with a special set from the legendary rapper, where she presented music from Queen Latifah, Foxy Brown, Lil’ Kim, Nicki Minaj, Lyte herself and more. Festival founders Stephanie and Floyd Rance also attended the special night.
After the screening, attendees were treated to a panel featuring MC Lyte and Ladies First director Dream Hampton. Noting that her favorite era of hip hop is now, Hampton declared that the movement women rappers have today and the diversity among them is an empowering and proud moment.
MC Lyte candidly shared that when she’s asked about her experience as a woman in hip hop, she’s not sure how to answer because she doesn’t know any other way than being female in the genre.
Ladies First – a Culture House Production – is a four-part series that celebrates women in hip hop over the past 50 years. Featuring a parade of legendary emcees, up-and-comers and artists currently at the top of the charts like Latto and Tierra Whack, it contextualizes the undeniable impact women have made in the genre, in front of the mic and behind it. From rap originators like Sha-Rock and Roxanne Shante to the women making music today, Ladies First examines how these artists have and are changing the social, racial and political landscape of the times through a female lens.