Tanya Kersey, founder of the Hollywood Black Film Festival, dies at 61

A woman in a shiny gray strapless dress poses on a red carpet.
Hollywood Black Film Festival founder Tanya Kersey, pictured in 2008, has died.
(Jason LaVeris / FilmMagic)

Tanya Kersey, who founded the Hollywood Black Film Festival, has died, her family announced on social media this week. She was 61.

On Tuesday, Kersey’s sister, Lisa M. Kersey, confirmed her death on Facebook. The post said the entrepreneur died Monday after years of “battling multiple health issues.”

“It is with great sadness that I post the passing of my beautiful sister, Tanya Monique Kersey. My sister passed away peacefully, surrounded by her loved ones yesterday evening,” Lisa Kersey wrote. “Although we will miss her dearly, we find solace in that she is no longer in in pain.”

Kersey founded the Hollywood Black Film Festival in 1998, with the goal of spotlighting independent films and filmmakers from the African diaspora. The fest, dubbed “The Black Sundance,” welcomed notable attendees such as Sidney Poitier, John Singleton, Forest Whitaker, Sanaa Lathan and Loretta Devine.

The Hollywood Black Film Festival, which begins Wednesday and continues through Sunday at the Montalban Theatre and the W Hotel, includes an array of films and panels.

Oct. 1, 2013


The festival has screened more than 1,000 films hailing from the United States, Canada and 25 other countries.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Kersey was born in New York City on March 22, 1961. She attended Douglass College at Rutgers University in the early 1980s and graduated with a degree in sociology and political science.

Before founding the Hollywood Black Film Festival, Kersey worked as an actor, model, entertainment journalist and radio host, according to the bio listed on her website.

“My belief is that people aren’t manifesting their Hollywood dreams because they don’t have all the information they need to make the right decisions, go in the right direction, and make the right moves,” she wrote in her bio. “My calling and my passion have always been to serve by sharing information and knowledge.”

She founded the entertainment trade publication Black Talent News to provide more coverage to African American readers. She also ran the boutique film consulting firm the Kersey Group, which represented individuals, businesses, organizations, universities and government agencies.

In November 2021, the Hollywood Black Film Festival announced that it will return in October 2022, nearly four years after the last iteration in 2018.

Tributes for Kersey poured in after her death was announced, remembering her contributions to the film space and paving a path for Black filmmakers and creatives.

“Tanya was a force of nature, and a watchful, helpful presence for the African American creative community,” tweeted producer and director Tina Andrews.


“When it came to down to the film industry, understanding festivals, and understanding what elements were needed to make it, [Kersey] was always there to keep everyone’s dreams in check,” wrote Sadah Espii Proctor, a sound designer, new media artist and dramaturg. “I know I wouldn’t be where I am in my career without her guidance and mentorship.”