Define American Film Festival Guests

Special Film Festival Guests

Immigrants in Entertainment - Friday April 20, 7:00pm

Melissa Harris-Perry

Writer, Professor, TV Host and Political Commentator

Prof. Melissa Harris-Perry is the Maya Angelou Presidential Chair at Wake Forest University. There she is founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center and co-director of Wake the Vote. Melissa is editor-at-large of Elle.com and a contributing editor at The Nation. Along with Dorian Warren, Harris-Perry is principal and co-host of Freedom on Tap, an independent media project combining live events, digital, and audio content. From 2012-2016 she hosted the television show “Melissa Harris-Perry” on weekend mornings on MSNBC and was awarded the Hillman Prize for broadcast journalism. She is an award-winning author and sought after public speaker, lecturing widely throughout the United States and abroad. Harris-Perry received her B.A. degree in English from Wake Forest University and her Ph.D. degree in political science from Duke University. She also studied theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Harris-Perry previously served on the faculty of the University of Chicago, Princeton University, and Tulane University. Professor Harris-Perry has been awarded honorary degrees from many universities including Meadville Lombard Theological School, Winston-Salem State University, Eckerd College, and New York University.

Follow Melissa on Twitter at @MHarrisPerry.

Rafael Agustín

Actor Writer

Rafael Agustín is the co-creator and co-writer of the autobiographical play N*gger Wetb*ck Ch*nk, which has received acclaim from the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Denver Post, and has won awards for its advancement of social justice in the arts. He is the founding executive director of the Edward James Olmos’ Latino Film Institute Youth Cinema Project. Currently, he and Gina Rodriguez are collaborating on the immigrant-centered series Illegal for the CW, inspired by his life as a former undocumented American.

Follow Rafael on Twitter @MrRafaelAgustin.

Bambadjan Bamba

Actor, Filmmaker Activist

Bambadjan Bamba is an actor and filmmaker who immigrated from the Ivory Coast with his family fleeing political persecution in 1992. Upon finding out that he was undocumented as a high school senior, he worked his way through drama school without any financial aid. Since then, he qualified for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and worked his way up in Hollywood. He has a recurring role on NBC’s The Good Place and appears in the Marvel blockbuster Black Panther. When the Trump administration announced that it would be repealing DACA, he decided he could no longer stay silent. He is now working with Define American to share his story in hopes of shedding more light on America’s outdated and dysfunctional immigration system.

Follow Bambadjan on Twitter @realbambadjan.

Nico Santos

Actor Comedian

Nico Santos stars as Mateo on NBC’s hit comedy Superstore. He was born and raised in the Philippines and started doing stand-up in San Francisco, where he became a popular fixture in comedy scene with his acute observations and quirky characters. He has written for E!’s Fashion Police and appeared on Showtime’s Pride Comedy Jam, as well as the series Ground Floor, Mulaney, and 2 Broke Girls. Nico can be seen next as Oliver T’sien in the highly anticipated movie Crazy Rich Asians based on the best selling novel by Kevin Kwan. 

Follow Nico on Twitter @nicosantos.

Reshma Shetty

Actor Royal Pains, Blindspot

Reshma Shetty was born in Manchester, England, UK to Hindu parents. She was raised in England and Richmond, Virginia in the United States. Her small screen debut was USA’s flagship series Royal Pains as one of television’s first female South Asian series leads. Additional television credits include NBC’s Blindspot. Her feature film credits include SteamDelivering the GoodsAllegiance, and Hated.

Follow Reshma on Twitter at @ReshmaShetty.

Bisbee '17 - Saturday April 21, 1:00 PM

Maria Hinojosa

President, Futuro Media Group News Anchor, Journalist

As the Anchor and Executive Producer of the Peabody Award-winning show Latino USA, distributed by NPR, as well as Co-Host of In The Thick, the Futuro Media Group’s new political podcast, Hinojosa has informed millions about the changing cultural and political landscape in America and abroad. Hinojosa is also Anchor and Executive Producer of the PBS show America By The Numbers, the first national television series to examine our country’s dramatic demographic shifts, and Humanizing America, a digital video series that deconstructs stereotypes about the American electorate. She is also a new contributor to the long-running, award-winning news program CBS Sunday Morning and a frequent guest on MSNBC.

Follow Maria on Twitter at @Maria_Hinojosa.

Mony Ruiz-Velasco

Attorney Activist

Mony is an immigrant rights attorney and activist in private practice. For more than eighteen years, Mony has provided direct legal representation and counsel to hundreds of immigrants and their families. Mony worked at the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) for almost thirteen years, where she became the legal director. She supervised and oversaw the delivery of legal services for thousands of detained and non-detained individuals each year. Mony represents immigrant families, LGBTQ immigrants, as well as other vulnerable populations, such as unaccompanied minors and survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking and other crimes. She also trained hundreds of volunteer attorneys to provide legal representation to immigrants and their families.

Jose Antonio Vargas

Founder and CEO Define American

Jose Antonio Vargas is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and a leading voice for the human rights of immigrants. He is the founder and CEO of Define American, the nation’s leading non-profit media and culture organization that fights injustice and anti-immigrant hate through the power of storytelling. His forthcoming memoir will be published by HarperCollins in fall 2018.

Follow Jose on Twitter @joseiswriting.

The Women's Movement: Where Do We Go From Here? - Saturday April 21, 5:00pm

Paola Mendoza

National Organizer and Artistic Director Women’s March

Paola Mendoza was recently named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film. Her narrative directorial debut, Entre Nos, had its world premiere at Tribeca Film Festival and went on to win over 20 awards at film festivals around the world. Her second feature, A Paso de Mangles, is in development. Most recently, she directed a series of documentary shorts about immigration for Refinery29 that were executive produced by America Ferrera. Broken Tail Light currently has over 23 million views on YouTube, while Free Like the Birds premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. Her documentary Z for Zendaya, starring Disney superstar Zendaya Coleman, and her animated series 11 Million Stories, about a dystopian future where mass deportation is law in the United States, were commissioned by Mark Zuckerberg’s foundation FWD.us. She is a two-time nominee for the NALIP Estel Awards, given to Latino filmmakers who show extraordinary promise in the field of directing. She is a Tribeca All Access, Independent Film Week, and Fast Track alum. Her novel The Ones Who Don’t Stay was published by Penguin Books in 2013.

Follow Paola on Twitter @paolamendoza.

Ai-jen Poo

Director, National Domestic Workers Alliance; Co-director Caring Across Generations campaign

Ai-jen Poo is an award-winning activist, thought leader, and social innovator. As co-founder of the Domestic Workers United (DWU), a city-wide, multiracial organization of domestic workers, she help lead the way to the passage of the nation’s first Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in 2010. In 2011, she co-created Caring Across Generations, a national campaign to ensure access to affordable care for America’s aging population and access to quality jobs for its caregiving workforce. Her numerous accolades include recognition as a 2014 MacArthur Foundation “genius” fellow, a 2013 World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, and she was named to TIME magazine’s list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2012, as well as Newsweek’s 150 Fearless Women list that same year. In 2015, she was recognized as one of Fortune.com’s World’s 50 Greatest Leaders and the NonProfit Times Power; Influence Top 50 lists in 2015 and 2016.

Follow Ai-jen on Twitter @aijenpoo.

Anurima Bhargava

Founder Anthem of Us

Anurima Bhargava served as the Chief of the Educational Opportunities Section of the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice. From 2010-2016, she led federal enforcement of civil rights laws in schools and institutions of higher education. Since the Obama administration ended, she has continued to play a leading national role in addressing and responding to the rollback of protections related to sexual assault and harassment. She wrote the statement issued by more than 125 organizations and movement leaders after the withdrawal of the sexual assault guidance by the current administration. She continues to advise public and private institutions, as well as civil rights advocates, on policy and strategy related to sexual harassment and assault.

Follow Anurima on Twitter at @anurima.

Bethany Yellowtail

Fashion Designer CEO of B.YELLOWTAIL

Bethany Yellowtail is a fashion designer based in Los Angeles, California. She is known for her work that reflects her Apsaalooke (Crow) & Tsetsehestahese & So’taeo’o (Northern Cheyenne) tribal heritage. She is the CEO of B.YELLOWTAIL, which embraces an authentic voice of contemporary Native America through design and wearable art.

Follow Bethany on Twitter at @Byellowtail.

Secret Screening - Saturday April 21, 7:30 PM

Dr. Iva Carruthers

Sociologist Educator, and Social Advocate

Carruthers uses her ministry as a vehicle for addressing social issues, particularly those involving people of African descent in America and abroad. She authored The Church and Reparations – An African American Perspective, which was distributed at the 2001 United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance, where she also served as a delegate. In December of that year, Carruthers became president of the Urban Outreach Foundation, a nonprofit, interdenominational organization that assists African and African American communities with education, healthcare and community development.

Follow Iva on Twitter at @IvaCarruthers.

Hans Charles

Cinematographer, Professor Filmmaker

Hans Charles has shot for a range of directors including Spike Lee, Ava DuVernay, Nefertite Nguvu, Salim Akil, Gloria LeMort and countless others. Charles’ films have won a BAFTA (British Academy Award) and have been nominated for an Oscar and Independent Spirit Award. His projects have screened at festivals all over the world including, The New York Film Festival, The Urban World Film Festival, the New York City Latino Film Festival, OutFest, the Los Angeles Film Festival, the Zanzibar Film Festival, the BlackStar film festival, and HBO, ESPN, Netflix and Hulu.

Follow Hans on Twitter at @cineclass.

Wesley Lowery

Journalist The Washington Post

Wesley Lowery is a Pulitzer Prize-winning national correspondent covering law enforcement, race and justice for The Washington Post and an on-air contributor for CNN. He has been the paper’s lead reporter covering police shootings and the Black Lives Matter protest movement. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal and Sports Illustrated. His first book, the New York Times bestseller They Can’t Kill Us All, was awarded the 2017 Christopher Isherwood prize for autobiographical prose by the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes.

Menelek Lumumba

Director Screenwriter

Menelek Lumumba is a writer and director who was born and raised in Denver, Colorado. He graduated from Colorado College with degrees in English and Film Studies. Menelek then went on to study Cinema at Howard University in their Master of Arts program. His screenplay In My Skin was named a finalist for the 2010 Colorado International Film Festival and the 3rd Annual Rap-It-Up/Black AIDS Short Subject Film Competition.

Last summer, Menelek completed work on his first feature film, 1 Angry Black Man, which he wrote and directed. The film will be making its debut this spring on the film festival circuit. Menelek also co-created and co-hosts a weekly film podcast called the “Back of the Theater” with his creative partner Hans Charles. Menelek currently resides in New Mexico with his wife and son.

Global Migration: No Ban, No Wall

AJ Mendez

New York Times Bestselling Author Former Wrestling Champion

AJ Mendez is the New York Times Bestselling author of Crazy Is My Superpower: How I Triumphed by Breaking Bones, Breaking Hearts, and Breaking the Rules. She is a mental health advocate and animal rights activist, currently serving as an ambassador for the nonprofit organizations NAMI, The JED Foundation, The ASPCA, and Girls Make Games. A former professional wrestler with the WWE under the ring name AJ Lee, she has won three championships and numerous awards, as well as inspired a generation of young girls to wear sensible shoes. AJ has been made into several video game characters and action figures, all with substantially exaggerated body measurements. In her spare time she enjoys comic books, video games, and internet videos of unusual animal friendships. She is currently working with the producers of the Genius franchise to turn Crazy is My Superpower into a TV series, which she will write and executive produce.

Follow AJ on Twitter at @TheAJMendez.

Alaa Basatneh

Justice Correspondent Fusion TV

Alaa Basatneh is the Justice Correspondent at Fusion TV covering stories ranging from Islamophobia to Middle East-U.S. relations. She was the subject of the 2013 documentary #ChicagoGirl: The Social Network Takes on a Dictator.

Follow Alaa on Twitter at @AlaaBasatneh

Erika Andiola

Activist Political Strategist

Erika Andiola was part of the #Dream7, a group of seven activists who were arrested and went on a hunger strike in the push for a clean DREAM Act. She served as Latino outreach strategist for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign and later as political director for Our Revolution, Sanders’ PAC. She was a Congressional staffer for Arizona Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema.

Follow Erika on Twitter at @ErikaAndiola.

Miko Revereza

Director Producer

Miko Revereza was born in the Philippine capital Manila, but has lived and worked illegally in the USA since childhood. Besides creating music videos and live video installations, he has also shot dozens of short films addressing the Americanization of Filipino immigrants. His is the director and producer of Drug! and Disintegration 93-96. His longterm problems with documentation and the exclusion it imposes informs his films, writing and art practice. Miko lives in Los Angeles and is currently earning an MFA at Bard College.

Follow Miko on Twitter at @CINE_DROGA.

Versha Sharma

Senior Correspondent, Managing Editor NowThis News

Versha Sharma is the Managing Editor and Senior Correspondent at NowThis, where she leads the context team in producing short documentaries about global issues, including immigration and the refugee crisis caused by the conflict in Syria. Previously, she led the NowThis Politics team in its coverage of the 2016 election, with a special focus on how the candidates’ campaigns affected minority communities. Prior to that, she covered US and international politics for Vocativ, MSNBC.com, and Talking Points Memo. She has interviewed President Barack Obama, Senator Bernie Sanders, Alicia Keys and more in her time at NowThis.

Follow Versha on Twitter at @versharma.

Define American Comedy Night in partnership with The Second City and Harold Ramis Film School - Sunday April 22, 5:30pm

Baratunde Thurston

Comedian Writer, Cultural Critic

Baratunde Thurston is a futurist comedian, writer, and cultural critic who helped re-launch The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, co-founded Cultivated Wit and the About Race podcast, and wrote the New York Times bestseller How To Be Black. He was nominated for a Daytime Emmy award as host of the Spotify/Mic series Clarify.
Follow Baratunde on Twitter at @baratunde.

Tamer Kattan

Comedian Writer

Tamer Kattan is an Egyptian-born American comedian, a regular at the Comedy Store, Improv, and Laugh Factory in Los Angeles. He was recently featured on Seth Rogen’s Hilarity for Charity event, was the winner of the 2015 World Series of Comedy, and has television and radio credits on BBC and SkyTV in the UK as well as on Fox, Hulu, HGTV, and truTV in the U.S.
Follow Tamer on Twitter at @TamerKattan

Alex Kumin

Comedian Instructor, Stand Up Seminary and Feminine Comique

Alex Kumin is an alumni of the nation’s longest running independent standup comedy showcase, The Lincoln Lodge, through which she also teaches Chicago’s premiere all-female standup class, Feminine Comique.  Her monthly showcase, Jokesplaining, is a local favorite and takes place at the Chicago Laugh Factory on the last Friday of the month, featuring the best and freshest comedic voices in the city. She made her television debut on WCIU’s Chicago’s One Night Standup and has appeared in NBC Universal’s Breakout Festival (’16 and ’17), Limestone Comedy Festival, Orlando Indie Comedy Fest and The Chicago Comedy Exposition. She tackles heavy hitting social issues like gender inequality and thigh chaffing.

Follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexKumin.

Felonious Munk

Comedian Writer, Actor

Felonious Munk is a comedian, social commentator, and above average beardsman, currently based in Chicago. He appeared regularly on Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore and at the legendary Second City Chicago as co-creator, host, and writer for the groundbreaking and critically acclaimed shows Afrofuturism and Black Side of the Moon. Recently Munk wrote and starred in the hit play Nothing to Lose (But Our Chains), produced by The Second City. Munk also has a scripted series in development with Comedy Central and is the host of a new podcast with Fusion, that will be out later this year. Munk performs standup regularly across the county, including headlining at The Gotham in NYC, Stand Up NYC, The Stand NY, The Laugh Factory Chicago, Zanies, New York Comedy Club, and The Stand Room in NYC.

Follow Felonious on Twitter @Felonious_munk.

Zahra Noorbakhsh

Comedian Podcast Host

Zahra Noorbakhsh is a Feminist, Muslim, Iranian-American comedian. Her one-woman show All Atheists are Muslim was directed by W. Kamau Bell and dubbed a highlight of the International New York City Fringe Theater Festival by the New Yorker. She is a contributor to the New York Times featured anthology Love Inshallah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women and keeps a monthly column entitled “My Infidel Husband.” She also co-hosts the internationally-acclaimed podcast #GoodMuslimBadMuslim, which was deemed a “must listen” by O, The Oprah Magazine and awarded the OCLA Rising Star Image Award.

Follow Zahra on Twitter @zahracomedy.