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Film examines link between comfort foods and health crises

Shanice Maxwell | 11/28/2012, 6:41 a.m.
Critically-acclaimed filmmaker and Northeastern alum Byron Hurt returned to Boston for a special screening of his...
Critically-acclaimed filmmaker and Northeastern alum Byron Hurt returned to Boston for a special screening of his latest documentary, “Soul Food Junkies.” The screening was hosted by Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. and Keyla Jackson (L), assistant director of the John D. O’Bryant African American Institute. The film premieres nationwide on Jan. 14, 2013 as part of PBS’ Independent Lens program. Eric Esteves

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Critically-acclaimed filmmaker and Northeastern alum Byron Hurt returned to Boston for a special screening of his latest documentary, “Soul Food Junkies.” The screening was hosted by Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. and Keyla Jackson (L), assistant director of the John D. O’Bryant African American Institute. The film premieres nationwide on Jan. 14, 2013 as part of PBS’ Independent Lens program.

Northeastern University was the place to be the night of Nov. 16, as the campus’  African-American Institute played host to the screening of “Soul Food Junkies,” an independent documentary that explores the ramifications of being a soul food addict.

The film was written, directed and produced by Northeastern alum Byron Hurt, who said the film was inspired by the plight of his late father, Jackie Hurt.

“My father motivated me to make this film. My father dealt with obesity for a good portion of his life. He became ill in 2004 and I saw him struggle with the difficulty of changing his diet,” Hurt said. “As I saw him grapple with his own illness , I saw how complicated it was and I thought I wanted to make a film about soul food and the impact it has on communities of color, including families.”

In just shy of 65 minutes, “Soul Food Junkies” had audience members laughing, shedding tears and nodding their heads in agreement.

Hurt addressed how an affinity for deliciously detrimental foods has plagued the health of black community members with issues like hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and cancer and discussed what, if anything, could be done going forward.

“[It was] beautiful, brilliant, relevant. All of our people need to know about it,” said Victor Kakulu, 32, of Roxbury. “We defend what we do, we’re prideful about what we do, but at the same time, we can still be all those things but for our own preservation.”

The documentary sidestepped confusing medical jargon and took a personal approach to discussing the black community’s craving for food that soothes the soul but often wreaks havoc on the body. Hurt was transparent and open as he dug into his own family and his father’s battle with food addiction.

Though the film has yet to reach theaters, Hurt has been traveling across the nation to evoke change with his latest work. Realizing soul food is an entity many cherish and credit as an integral part of the black community, Hurt wanted to send a clear and poignant message.

“I want people to be challenged by the film and inspired,” he said. “I want people to watch it, share it and make modifications in their diet, in their lifestyle, and essentially, be on the quest for health and wellness in their lives.”

As a result, some audience members left better equipped to address health issues linked to poor diet on a more personal level.

“My mom is the one with diabetes, but my dad is a big enabler and a big cause of that,” said Natalie Sanchez, 27, of Cambridge. “So [the film] made me really want to speak the truth to my mother and father.”

“This is bigger than just about food,” Sanchez added. “This is really about empowering people to know they’ve got the choices to save their own life and save each other’s lives.”

“Soul Food Junkies” will air nationally on PBS at 10 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 14 2013.