After pivoting online last summer, the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival is scheduled to return to the Island August 6 through August 14.

“We unfortunately couldn’t do it in 2020 . . . because Covid was out of control,” festival co-founder Stephanie Rance said this week.

Instead, last October Ms. Rance and her husband, festival co-founder Floyd Rance, used Facebook to screen more than 50 films and a dozen panel discussions — and discovered audiences many times larger than the crowds that have filled the Martha’s Vineyard Performing Arts Center in years past.

“We had 2.5 million views,” Ms. Rance said. “Some of the independent films got over 2,000 to 3,000 views, which is crazy.”

By comparison, she said, the performing arts center seats no more than about 800 people.

The idea for presenting the 2020 festival on Facebook was proposed by the social media giant, which reached out to the Rances after last summer’s festival was canceled, she said.

“You don’t call Facebook. They call you,” Ms. Rance told the Gazette, speaking from the couple’s home in Denver, Colo.

Facebook remains the festival’s online home, she said, located at And while the performing arts center has been booked for this August’s in-person events, Ms. Rance was quick to acknowledge the potential for further pandemic-related disruption.

“The plan is to be in person, but we have to be flexible,” she said.

In the meantime, the Rances are teasing this year’s festival — their 19th — with a series of panel discussions and interviews titled The Color of Conversation, featuring the directors, writers and stars of new films as well as authors and journalists of color. Last week, following a screening of the newly-released Judas and the Black Messiah, Mr. Rance moderated a talk with the movie’s director Shaka King and producer Charles King. The conversation can be viewed on the festival’s YouTube channel,

The Rances also partnered with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to present the new documentary Mr. Soul, which screens on Feb. 18. Produced by Blair Underwood and directed by Melissa Haizlip, the film celebrates the 1960s-1970s public television series Soul, hosted by Ms. Haizlip’s uncle Ellis B. Haizlip.

Following the online screening, Ms. Rance will moderate a panel with Ms. Haizlip, singer Patti LaBelle, bassist Verdine White of Earth, Wind & Fire and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame chief curator Nwaka Onwusa.

Viewers can sign up for the screening and discussion at

Other upcoming events include a Feb. 24 discussion on diversity in arts organizations and a March conversation with journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson, author of All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir/Manifesto, Ms. Rance said.

“After that we’re doing one on black art and fashion and what that means, to be a black fashion designer and black artist in America,” she said.

The live Facebook events will continue after this summer’s festival as well, Ms. Rance said. Viewers who wish to sign up for notifications for both in-person and virtual events may email

“We love the Vineyard. You guys have been so good to us for the past 19 years,” she said. “We’re so grateful and honored and humble that we will be able to pull this off.”