Alumni Tributes

Remembering a Leader in Black Cinema

Tanya Kersey

Tanya Kersey, a Rutgers alumna and founder of the Hollywood Black Film Festival (HBFF), passed away in July at age 61. Recognized as a champion of Black cinematic talent, not just in Los Angeles but nationally and around the world, Kersey DC’83 was the driving force behind this annual filmmaking showcase often described as “the Black Sundance.”

After earning her Rutgers degree from Douglass Residential College in 1983, Kersey ventured into modelling and acting, landing guest roles on daytime dramas like All My Children, Search for Tomorrow, and Guiding Light. In 1994 she launched a trade publication, Black Talent News, and began to develop a following as a film coach and consultant. The centerpiece of her career emerged four years later when she established the HBFF, bringing together well-known entertainment figures and up-and-coming indie talent.

Quickly gaining popularity among Hollywood notables, the festival screened more than 1,000 films from independent producers in the U.S. and 25 foreign countries. It also featured panels, workshops, and guest speakers, addressing a broad range of entertainment industry topics. The HBFF had been on hiatus since 2018, with plans for a revival this year.

Kersey’s death was announced on Facebook by her daughters and sister. According to family members, Kersey had confronted several long-term health issues in recent years and “passed away peacefully, surrounded by her loved ones.”

Notes of sympathy and praise appeared on Twitter and elsewhere following the news. “Tanya was a force of nature, and a watchful, helpful presence for the African American creative community,” said actress and producer Tina Andrews. “She did a lot to help so many in the film industry,” posted TV writer Kimberly Allen. A tweet from filmmaker and writer Brandon David Wilson noted that Kersey “gave us a big screen, a community, and audience. Thank you, Tanya, and rest easy.”