Black Harvest Film Festival 2023: Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes, Black Barbie: A Documentary, We Were Meant To, Burnt Milk | Festivals & Awards

Not only did the Black Harvest Film Festival feature a band of boundary-pushing features, but there were also smart, imaginative shorts. Tari Wariebi’s “We Were Meant To,” which initially premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2023, comes out of the AFI Conservatory. The film elegantly mixes fable with political subtext through a community of Black men born with wings. One such man, a kid, really, is Akil (Tim Johnson Jr). At 16, Akil is finally old enough to go to flight school. But it does come with a risk: several years ago, his father’s wings were clipped by authorities. Now, his embittered dad locks himself away in their home. He warns Akil not to fall to the same fate. 

Part coming-of-age film, in “We Were Meant To,” Akil vies for the attention of Jasmine (Jordan-Amanda Hall) by flying. Apparently, her parents met at her dad’s first takeoff. Through supporting characters like Jasmine, Wariebi performs nimble world-building. Black women like Jasmine, for instance, have healing abilities (their hands glow when they perform such deeds). Through dialogue, we also learn that the government is enacting no-fly zones, thereby relegating Black folks to specific areas, or else they’ll suffer the consequences. 

Wariebi’s short, however, is most evocative of the seemingly boundless freedom felt by Black youth. Dappled in idyllic golden hues, Akil and his friends live in defiance and with joy. They can’t fathom racism walking through their door because it’s more theory than a looming threat. The free-floating lens suggests such frivolity in the face of doom, as does Johnson’s unbound performance. When reality finally does strike, it comes with near-crushing force. Wariebi, thankfully, doesn’t allow these Black men to remain grounded. He pushes them to soar, and, in turn, the crowd-pleasing “We Were Meant To” powers toward Black euphoria. 

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