Things to Do

Your Guide to the Smithsonian African American Film Festival

More than 80 films will show at the first annual festival from October 24-October 27

"If Beale Street Could Talk," "United Skates," "This Little Light," and "Widows." Photographs courtesy of Smithsonian African American Film Festival.

Update: Due to a small fire on the loading dock of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, today’s Sankofa screenings have been canceled, says a spokesperson for the African American Film Festival. The Juried Film Awards Ceremony has been moved to the Freer | Sackler at 5:30 PM, and the If Beale Street Could Talk premiere has been moved to the National Air and Space Museum, at 600 Independence Ave. SW.

The inaugural Smithsonian African American Film Festival, organized by the National Museum of African American History and Culture, has a blockbuster lineup of films (over 80!) and events, including post-screening chats with celebs like Quincy JonesRegina King, and Barry Jenkins, and it also offers a peek at the original Black Panther costume. Here’s everything you should know.

Major Movie Highlights


Steve McQueen, the auteur behind 12 Years a Slave, directs from a script he co-wrote with thriller queen and Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn. Viola Davis leads a stacked ensemble, featuring Liam Neeson, Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), and Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta), in this Chicago heist film that sees four women team up to settle a debt left by their dead husbands. McQueen’s first feature film since 12 Years a Slave is one of the buzziest releases this year and we can’t resist a team up with Flynn, fresh off her well-received Sharp Objects. Plus, the movie doesn’t open in wide release until November 16, so see it now and be waaaaay ahead of the water cooler talk at work. Wednesday, October 24, at 7:30 PM at the Oprah Winfrey Theatre at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, $10.

If Beale Street Could Talk

Barry Jenkins, who won an Oscar for his coming-of-age drama Moonlight, will be in conversation before a screening of If Beale Street Could Talk, which closes out the festival. Adapted from James Baldwin’s seminal novel of the same name, the film follows a young couple’s fight for justice in a racist judicial system after one of them is falsely accused of a crime. Stars Regina King, Kiki Layne, and Stephan James will also be there. The film has a limited national release in November and will play nationwide in 2019. Saturday, October 27, at 7:45 PM at the Oprah Winfrey Theatre at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, $50.


Rashida Jones co-directed this documentary about her legendary dad, the producer-musician Quincy Jones. Jones, who in his decades-long-career has worked with Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, and other music titans, has surmounted numerous racial and cultural barriers and left an indelible mark on the industry. Known for his wild interviews, the man himself will be at the screening and if you’re going, we’re sure it’ll be a fun conversationFriday, October 26, at 8 PM at the Oprah Winfrey Theatre at the National Museum of African American History & Culture. Sold out, but you can stream the film now on Netflix.

How to See the Black Panther Suit

The super suit Chadwick Boseman dons as the King of Wakanda in Black Panther will be on display for the first time in-person at the Night at the Museum celebration on Thursday starting at 7 PM. The suit was designed by two-time Academy Award nominee Ruth E. Carter, who was selected to receive the career achievement award at next year’s Costumer Designers Guild Awards. It’ll be cool to see what Vibranium looks like up close. The suit is one of several objects from the film that is coming to the museum for permanent display in the future, so get your sneak peek while you can.

Smaller Films We Think You’ll Enjoy

This Little Light

Activist and feminist freedom singer Wendi Moore-O’Neal co-directs this documentary, which chronicles her life after she was fired from her community organizing job after marrying her wife. Wednesday, October 24, at 2 PM at the Freer Sackler Meyer Auditorium, $10.

Say Her Name Program

This free event focuses on four films with women at the center of their narratives and includes stories about legendary singer Nina Simone and an exploration of longstanding stereotypes about black women. Stay after for a discussion with directors, most of whom are women. No registration is required, and seating is first-come, first-served. Thursday, October 25, starting at noon at the National Gallery of Art’s East Building Auditorium, free.

United Skates

As a roller rinks close around the country, this documentary explores the racially charged movement to save roller skating subculture. Friday, October 26, at 4:15 PM at the Freer/Sackler’s Meyer Auditorium, $10.


Recently restored, this screening marks the 25th anniversary of Haile Gerima’s film, which tells the story of a young model who experiences  the horrors of slavery firsthand when she’s transported back in time to a slave plantation. Saturday, October 27, at 12:30 PM at the Oprah Winfrey Theatre at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, $10.

I’m in. How do I get tickets?

You can buy tickets for individual screenings online. Full-access festival passes are sold out, BUT more tickets for screenings of the festival’s opening and closing-night film, Widows and If Beale Street Could Talk, were recently released (snag them here and here).

Tickets for Widows are $10, but tickets for Barry Jenkins’ talk and screening plus the festival’s closing party will run you $50. Tickets for the Night at the Museum Celebration, which honors directors Madeline Anderson and Charles Burnett, are available for $100 a person.

How do I get there? Where are the movies showing?

Events will take place at these three locations all on the National Mall:

This post has been updated. 

Adia H. Robinson
Editorial Fellow
Web Producer and Social Media Fellow

Helen joined Washingtonian in January 2018. She studied Journalism and International Relations at the University of Southern California. She recently won an Online News Award for her work on a project about the effects of the Salton Sea, California’s greatest burgeoning environmental disaster, on a Native American tribe whose ancestral lands are on its shores. Before joining the magazine, Helen worked in Memphis covering education for Chalkbeat. Her work has appeared in USA Today, The Desert Sun, Chalkbeat Tennessee, Sunset Magazine, Indiewire, and others.