Arts & Entertainment

HBO Best Documentary Winner tackles Name Discrimination with “Searching for Shaniqua”: Free Film Screening Friday March 10 at Cicely Tyson School in East Orange


EAST ORANGE, NJ -  “Searching for Shaniqua,” the HBO Best Documentary winner at the 2016 Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Fest, will make its New Jersey debut at the Cicely Tyson School Performing Arts Center, 35 Winans Street, East Orange, NJ on Friday, March 10, 2017 at 6pm. The screening is free and open to the public.

Hosted by the City of East Orange’s Department of Recreation & Cultural Affairs, “Searching for Shaniqua” examines the impact that unique, Afrocentric, Islamic and so-called “ghetto” names have on people’s lives. The film focused on personal stories of several women and their relationships with their names. Scholars, teachers, corporate professionals weigh in on the implications of having a name deemed “too black.”

Joining director Phill Branch for the post-screening talkback will be cast members Khalifah Shabazz (Corporation Counsel for the City of East Orange) and Dr. Akil Khalfani (Director, Africana Institute, Essex County College). All have different and interesting perspectives on having African-American naming traditions. 

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“Searching for Shaniqua” wowed the packed house during its screening at the 2016 Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival and the Q&A lasted almost as long as the film. The film has also screened at the Bronzelens Festival (Atlanta), The Harlem International Film Festival and most recently at Harvard University for the Office of Student Diversity.

Branch, an alumnus of the American Film Institute, was a 2013 Lambda Literary Foundation Emerging Writers Fellow. He is a Lecturer in the English Department at Howard University and is a storyteller for D.C.’s Story District. Prior to Howard, Phill served as an Assistant Professor of English at his undergraduate alma mater, Hampton University.

A native of Newark, Phill attended Newark, Elizabeth and Orange Public Schools before graduating from Essex Catholic High School in East Orange. He currently lives in Baltimore, MD.

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