Articles: The AAFCAs: Honoring Our Own




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By Samantha Ofole-Prince
Photos by Royalty Images Gil Robertson, Sanaa Nathan and Jeff Clanagan

“If you don’t like someone’s story, write your own,” said literary giant and educator Chinua Achebe and that’s exactly what Shawn Edwards and Gil Robertson did when they started the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) in 2003.

Frustrated with the film industry’s failure to promote positive images and themed stories from the African Diaspora, veteran journalists Edwards and Robertson started their own organization.

An organization of black film critics representing multiple mediums, AAFCA now holds an annual star-studded award ceremony every February during Black History month. Their mission is simply to celebrate the best in directing, screenwriting, acting and producing, and also honor African American contribution to cinema.

The awards event is now in its 7th year and at last year’s awards ceremony, the film “Selma,” which was snubbed of an Oscar nomination, earned the top honor receiving the accolade for best picture. The film’s star, David Oyelowo, was awarded the best actor accolade for his portrayal of Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King.

AAFCA - .John Singleton & Courtney B Vance

This year, the surprise summer box office hit “Straight Outta Compton,” a film which follows the meteoric rise of the group N.W.A, captured the majority of votes cast by members of the association. With the film’s exclusion for an Oscar nomination, and the lack of black actors among the chosen few in the top four Oscar categories, many are applauding AAFCA for continuously recognizing accomplishments from people of color.

“We felt it was time to come together in an organized way to bring about change, as there were concerns in the community of black entertainment media about coverage and access that we were given collectively,” explains co-founder Robertson on the organization’s concept. “With AACFA awards, we are doing what we can by recognizing those who otherwise might not be recognized.”

The 7th annual AAFCA’s held Wednesday, Feb. 10, at the Taglyan Complex in Hollywood, handed out 6 honors and awards in 12 categories.

“Straight Outta Compton,” the Universal Pictures film, earned multiple awards for Best Picture, Best Ensemble and Best Supporting Actor for Jason Mitchell, who portrayed the group’s founder, Eazy E. Awards were also given to “Creed” in the category of Best Director for Ryan Coogler; Michael B. Jordan for Breakout Performance and Tessa Thompson for Best Supporting Actress.

Hosted by Terrence J and ‘Entertainment Tonight’ correspondent Nischelle Turner, the top acting honors went to Will Smith and Teyonah Parris for their roles in “Concussion” and “Chi-Raq.” “Dope,” “Carol,” “The Peanuts Movie,” “A Ballerina’s Tale,” “The Danish Girl” and “The Martian,” as well as the television shows “Black-ish,” “How to Get Away with Murder” and “Survivor’s Remorse” were also honored.   2016 Oscars producer Reginald Hudlin, director John Singleton and Codeblack Entertainment CEO Jeff Clanagan received special honors for their contribution to American cinema.

AAFCA - Teyonah Parris and Sheryl Lee Ralph

“It feels great to be honored by my family,” John Singleton told on the red carpet. “We need to have our own systems and our own institutions honor us. There is too much of a colonist mentality of let me be included.”

The organization of film media professionals set a goal in 2014 to expand its industry presence during awards season with a collection of distinctive events. With awards season now coming to a close, by all accounts AAFCA has succeeded on all levels in honoring and presenting some of the most prominent names in front of the camera and behind the scenes in entertainment.

“AAFCA reminds us that we don’t need outside validation and whether we get any other nominations or any other awards, there is an appetite for black film and an audience that wants to see it,” says filmmaker and AAFCA board member Deborah Riley Draper.

Oprah Winfrey, Anthony Anderson, Ryan Coogler, Tyrese Gibson, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Sheryl Lee Ralph, Courtney B. Vance, Aldis Hodge, Carl Weathers, Rick Famuyiwa and Louis Gossett Jr. are just some of the many celebrities who have attended this worthwhile annual award ceremony.

The organization honors excellence in cinema by creating awareness for films with universal appeal to black communities. It emphasizes films about the black experience and those produced written, directed and starring performers of African descent.

“We are fully committed to supporting stories of color. It’s been a challenge but we are preserving and will continue to preserve. We are hopeful that eventually the industry will change,” Robertson says.

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