This Woman Combined Her Passion For Activism With Her Love Of Cinema To Enact Change

Mahen Bonetti, who hails from Sierra Leone, is on a mission to change other people’s perspective of the African diaspora. She’s done this by founding the New York African Film Festival, which began more than 20 years ago as a space for filmmakers to tell powerful stories from a variety of countries. Find out how she channels her passion for activism through cinema.

Full Name: Mahen Bonetti

Title/ Company: Founder/ Executive Director of The African Film Festival, Inc.

Location: New York City 

Hometown: Sierra Leone, Africa 

Social Media: @africanfilmfest

The 24th Annual New York African Film Festival: The African Film Festival, which will take place in New York City, will host it’s 24th annual festival with a theme of “The Peoples’ Revolution.” The festival will present 25 feature-length films and 36 short films from 25 countries.

Highlighting The African Diaspora Through Film: It’s not just putting films up there. Film is the catalyst to spark the larger discussion in and about the African diaspora. It’s also about our relationships with the artists. It’s not just during the festival; we travel together with them and grow together with them.

Re-shaping The Image Of Africa: [Many times] You see these images of Africans starving and I said, well why isn’t there ever a backstory with us? Why is there always someone speaking for us? – Why don’t you give them other stories [that way] it’s not only one-sided. 

A Love For The Motherland: I do this work to learn more about myself, and I celebrate what we have contributed to the world. Africa keeps giving and I want to celebrate that. I’m doing this work not so much for someone to validate me –but because I believe in humanity.

Passionate About Film: I’ve always loved cinema. I used to buy my lunch and see foreign films because I just loved finding my footings in someone else’s world and finding the connection. I discovered this body of work that was being produced by African filmmakers, which I never knew. That was the light bulb moment.

Giving Back: Throughout the year, we do in-school programs, documentary workshops and work with kids; that is important for us because you get to catch them at a young age and really leave an imprint. 

Advice For Young Film Makers: Tell stories the way you want to tell them [and] don’t feel like you have to adhere to someone who has given you money. 

Her Hobbies: I dance —that’s my release. 

Her Favorite Artists To Dance To: James Brown And Bob Marley 

The New York African Film Festival runs May 3-29 in various venues across New York City. For more information, visit

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