The nation’s first sorority for African-American college women has another first to celebrate. The documentary Twenty Pearls: The Story of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated® written and directed by award-winning documentary filmmaker Deborah Riley Draper, premieres Friday, March 26 at 8 p.m. EST on Comcast’s Black Experience on Xfinity, becoming the first original film for the media company’s Black content hub. The Black Experience is led by Keesha Boyd, executive director for multicultural video and entertainment at Comcast NBCUniversal.
Narrated by Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.® member Phylicia Rashad, Twenty Pearls takes viewers on a journey through 113 provocative years since the founding of the sorority. In 1908, forty years after the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, nine Black college women, enrolled at Howard University fought for, organized and built a sisterhood. The vision grew to 300,000 members and impacted and created watershed moments in American history despite race and gender bias. Rashad, the first Black actress to win a Tony award for a dramatic leading role, guides viewers through the story of visionary founders and their quest to change the world through sisterhood and service.
Produced by Coffee Bluff Pictures, Deborah Riley Draper’s production company, Twenty Pearls tells the story of this trailblazing organization founded to serve and uplift the African American community through narration, interviews and archival assets. Riley, who pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. as an undergraduate student at Florida State University, is delighted to be able to shine light on the incredible journey of the sorority. “It’s an honor to help elevate the stories of Black women who have impacted America in so many important ways,” says the NAACP Image Award nominee for her 2016 film Olympic Pride, American Prejudice. “It is a privilege to be able to elevate the stories of women of my sorority and to document their contribution to American society,” says Draper.
Twenty Pearls shows viewers the impact of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.® on the Harlem Renaissance, World War II, NASA, Civil Rights, Women’s Rights and HBCU endowments. Interviews include Alpha Kappa Alpha International President and CEO Dr. Glenda Glover, Vice President Kamala Harris, Miss Universe Ireland 2019 Fionnghuala O’Reilly, Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch III, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt Fierst and many more. “We see the evidence of the 113 years of AKA in all aspects of our American society,” adds Draper.
That evidence is also reflected in the team that worked on this documentary including Dr. Glenda Glover, who serves as Executive Producer. Cynthia D. Howell, Martha Perine Beard, Kimberly Esmond Adams and Cheryl Polote-Williamson also serve as executive producers. Lacy Barnes and Draper produced the film for Draper’s production company Coffee Bluff Pictures. All except Barnes are members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.®
In keeping with their legacy as a pioneering organization for women, Alpha Kappa Alpha® is the first Black Greek Letter Organization to produce and distribute the first-ever full-length feature documentary film about the Black Greek Sorority experience. Twenty Years demonstrates the historic and current cultural relevancy of HBCUs and Black Greek Letter Organizations to the shaping and survival of America. Draper, who produced and directed the critically-acclaimed documentary Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution is excited and passionate about her newest documentary. Known for making films that explore the intersection of race, gender and culture through a historical lens, Draper centers Black women in the narrative of American culture and success. When asked to sum up the documentary in a few words, Draper replies, “This film is a love letter to Black women — all of us.”
Twenty Pearls premieres Friday, March 26, 2021, at 8:00 PM (EST) on Comcast Xfinity Black Experience and Comcast Xfinity platforms, xfinity.com, XfinityFlex internet and Xfinity Mobile. The premiere will be followed by a virtual conversation with the cast and crew. The documentary will be available nationwide On Demand, starting March 30 on all other cable systems. Check your local cable guide for channel information.
To learn more about “Twenty Pearls,” visit www.aka1908.com.
This article was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Dr. Burton is a life member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated® and appears in the documentary “Twenty Pearls: The Story of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.® Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual or @TheBurtonWire.