With the Academy Awards just days away, the American Black Film Festival and BET Networks joined creative forces to introduce the “ABFF Awards: A Celebration of Hollywood.”
Amid the #oscarssowhite controversy, the program commemorated significant films and television shows in the past year that endorse black excellence and honor champions for diversity and inclusion - in front and behind the camera.
Even though ABFF was established twenty years ago to shine a light on unnoticed black filmmakers, founder Jeff Friday feels as if the organization has served an even greater purpose within the past year - especially for black actors and black films that are continuously snubbed by mainstream media.
"I’m a product of an institution that said I am enough - that said what I’m doing is important- that said that people that looked like me can be successful in this industry.”
“Hollywood feels like a private party and if you’re not on the list, it’s very difficult to penetrate that velvet rope,” Jeff declared during the ceremony. “I’m very encouraged that Hollywood will step up to the plate. It’s not about segregation, but celebration. These honorees have earned the right to be recognized and not overlooked.”
The inaugural ceremony, hosted by comedian Mike Epps, was taped this past Sunday at The Beverly Hilton Hotel and aired Tuesday night on BET. Singer V. Bozeman and iconic band Morris Day and The Time delivered show stopping performances. Many of the honorees took their time to pass on words of encouragement to young, aspiring filmmakers sitting in the audience and watching at home.
Will Packer, whose resume includes directing and producing box office hits such as "Stomp the Yard", "Think Like a Man" and "Ride Along", expressed a powerful testimony on ABFF’s tremendous impact on his career.
“Sundance wasn’t interested in my movies. The Toronto International Film Festival wasn’t interested. Even if they had said yes, I wouldn’t have been able to afford to get to Cannes. But there was a film festival led by Jeff Friday and his leadership team that welcomed me with open arms. They unashamedly said we are going to embrace the next generation of filmmakers, actors, directors, producers of color. All I needed was a chance and somebody who would show my films, put me in the right room - someone who would give me that opportunity that I couldn’t get elsewhere,” he told the audience while accepting the fitting Alumni Achievement award. “That’s why this means so much to me because I’m a product of an institution that said I am enough - that said what I’m doing is important- that said that people that looked like me can be successful in this industry.”
He continued with conviction, “To the next generation of Will Packers - I heard a lot of ‘No’s.’ I’ve heard ‘No’s’ from actors, executives, producers, agents,lawyers. But there was an important voice, a voice that wouldn’t tell me no. That voice was mine. Listen to your own voice and the sky will be the limit for you.”
Another ABFF alumnus and Oakland, California native, Ryan Coogler was named this year’s Rising Star for his directorial smash hit, “Creed.” The superstar director is all set to start working on the highly anticipated Marvel Cinematic Universe product, "Black Panther."
Regina King took a moment during her speech for Excellence in the Arts to reflect upon her experience as a mother and even acknowledged the #BlackLivesMatter campaign.
The Emmy award winning actress stated, “The most important accomplishment in my life is being a mother and when I think about the support I’ve received in my career I think about how Black lives matter. Black lives need to matter to black people. I love you, we love you, and you matter.”
Actors Robert Townsend and Don Cheadle also graciously accepted their hardware for Classic Cinema and Excellence in the Arts awards, respectively.
Actresses Keke Palmer, Kerry Washington and Loretta Devine paid tribute to Diahann Carroll by reciting excerpts of her autobiography, "The Legs Are the Last to Go." The 80 year old thespian urged younger actors to enjoy their moment in the spotlight before it’s time to read their last script.
“I’ve had the chance to actually to see what it means to face retirement. Try to lift the curtain to see who you really are and what you’re going to be before they say sit down and shut up - because they will say it,” said the legendary actress as accepting the Hollywood Legacy award.
In the top competitive film category, “Straight out of Compton” beat out “Dope,” “Creed,” “Chiraq,” “Beasts of No Nation” and “Concussion” for Best Film of the Year.
On the television side, ABC’s “Blackish” bested “Empire,” “Being Mary Jane,” “How to Get Away with Murder and “Power” in the race for Best Television Show of the Year.