Ambassador Stephanie Sullivan Opening Remarks, Black History Month Film Festival

Members of government,

Ambassador of France to the Congo,

Ladies and gentlemen in your ranks, grades, and qualities,

Distinguished guests,

Good evening,

It is a great pleasure and honor to be with you this evening to celebrate the fourth edition of African-American Film Week. I thank our partner, the French Institute of the Congo, for having once more accepted to host this festival. This fourth edition is particularly rich in themes evoked in the different films. These theme trace through space and time the evolution and efforts for civil rights in the United States of America.

At the center of the struggle for civil rights are found men and women who marked the history of the United States of America and that of the world. It is therefore that the African-American film week opens today with “The Man of Honor,” the true story of Carl Brashear, the first African American to be integrated into the Navy as a scuba diver. In the wake of the Second World War, and although the American Navy had officially ended racial segregation in its ranks, the color of his skin presented obstacles that he fought relentlessly.

The second day we will dive into the tragic life of Solomon Northrup in “Twelve Years a Slave,” a reminder of the cruelty of slavery, a struggle for survival and a quest for dignity.

It must be said here that human slavery is not a sad relic of the past. It is equally a sad reality of the present. It is for this reason that the United States continues to plead for human rights around the world. Each year, we shed light on this inadmissible abuse through the report on treatment of people. Like the character Solomon, many slave today were born free, but became victims of illegal trade for all forms of servitude. Happily today, universal human rights laws, law enforcement cooperation, border controls, and investigative journalism helps nations in the struggle against these abominable crimes.

Freedom of speech played and continues to play an important role in the struggle against racial prejudice, social and economic inequalities, as shown so well in the film “The Help.” “The Help” immerses us in the world of these black women always under the tight rein of their employers. In 1962, racial segregation persisted in the state of Mississippi. Blacks and whites lived in distinct, separate neighborhoods, went to different schools, libraries, and hospitals. This film demonstrates the benefits of freedom of speech that exposes the hardships of Black women, who suffered without a word.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, the struggle for civil rights was made possible thanks to women and men who believed in equality for all. The film “Selma” traces the historic struggle of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to guarantee the right to vote for all citizens. A dangerous and terrifying campaign, culminated in a long march from the city of Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and drove President Johnson to signer the right to vote law in 1965. Martin Luther King deeply believed in inalienable rights, and in the search for freedom and happiness for all regardless of race.

Martin Luther King left a legacy that powerfully shaped the society that we share with our children today. A society in which the merits of one another are recognized regardless of the condition. In his “I have a dream” speech, Martin Luther King advocated the virtues of peace and of living together despite differences and resentments. It is in this context that he said, “Do not look to satisfy your thirst for liberty by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hate. We must always lead our struggle on the highest levels of dignity.” The bravery of Martin Luther King permitted the desegregation of public schools, voting rights reforms, and housing law reform.

The commitment and conjoined efforts of simple citizens of all races in the civil rights movement allowed for constructive and calm debates with governments that ended in positive change. Thanks to these efforts, governments at the Federal, state, and local levels, businesses, and communities were collectively committed to support the African American cause against social inequalities.

“The Beasts of the Southern Wild” traces the courage and resilience of a young girl, who could just as well be a young Congolese girl who lost her family and grew up poor. This film equally reveals the noxious planetary impacts of climate change and how it affects us all, from the glacier melts in Antarctica to floods in New Orleans. This also has an impact on the Congo Basin and the ozone layer that contributes to global warming.

The American people remain vigilant and encourage all initiative to reduce division between cultures and to value diversity within the United States. It is in this sense that music plays a very important role in the United States notably in the African American community as shown in the film “Drumline.”  

All these films will show us where we come from and the considerable progress we have made thanks to the legacy of civil rights advocates. Martin Luther King’s dream took form in the United States election of Barack Obama, the first Black president. After two mandates, if Americans decide, President Obama will be able to witness the first woman president of the United States of America.

I wish you a good evening!