The American Black Film Festival (ABFF) partnered with BET Networks to produce the inaugural ABFF Awards on Sunday night at the Beverly Hilton, where celebrities including Robert Downey Jr., Pharrell and Anthony Anderson gathered to celebrate African American culture and excellence in entertainment.
“Anytime we can come together and celebrate each other and recognize the phenomenal work that we’ve done in this city is great,” Justin Hires, who stars in the upcoming “Rush Hour” reboot, told Variety before the awards show. “Hopefully this will be the first of many.”
Prior to the awards show proceedings, Black Enterprise president and CEO Earl Graves Jr. graced the stage to address the current state of African American representation in the industry.
“The entertainment industry is more than film and television production, and African Americans must become full participants in all aspects of this business,” he said. “Candidly, it’s outrageous that Hollywood would make great motion pictures in which African Americans’ consumer dollars greatly contribute to box office success, yet very few of those studios have been willing to make a significant investment in utilizing African American-dedicated media, nor African American firms, in promoting these films.”
With the 2016 Oscars looming, the topic of diversity persisted throughout the event.
“All this Oscar talk, I don’t even trip about that. What’s the big deal?” joked award presenter Jamie Foxx, who won an Oscar for his 2004 portrayal of Ray Charles in “Ray.”
“Much of the current controversy is about the lack of acknowledgement. Tonight, we do it ourselves,” added Ice Cube, who introduced the video clip for “Straight Outta Compton,” which was nominated for the ABFF film of the year.
Regina King accepted the ABFF’s Excellence in the Arts award and used her acceptance speech to discuss gun violence and the Black Lives Matter movement. As the male recipient of the Excellence in the Arts award, Don Cheadle voiced his appreciation for the diverse acting roles he’s received throughout his career.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have a varied career and play a multiplicity of roles and not be boxed in. I hope that, in some small part, those kinds of representations can continue to be an example for all of us that we aren’t locked, we aren’t boxed in,” said Cheadle.
Keke Palmer, Kerry Washington and Loretta Devine honored Hollywood legacy award recipient Diahann Carroll with a performed reading of excerpts from the actress’s 2009 memoir “The Legs Are the Last to Go: Aging, Acting, Marrying, and Other Things I Learned the Hard Way.” The awards ceremony also included performances from Morris Day and the Time and “Empire’s” V. Bozeman.
Additional ABFF Award honorees included Will Packer, Ryan Coogler, 1987’s “Hollywood Shuffle” and “Black-ish,” which won the accolade for TV show of the year.
“Our stories, for so long, had not been considered relevant, but they are,” said “Black-ish” creator Kenya Barris while accepting the show’s award. “Each one of us has an amazingly proprietary story. Tell your story. Tell it in an honest way, and it’ll resonate.”
Also in attendance at the ABFF Awards, which were hosted by Mike Epps, were Regina Hall, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Louis Gossett Jr., Taye Diggs, Omari Hardwick, Carl Weathers, Nia Long, Affion Crockett, Joe Morton and ABFF founder Jeff Friday.
The ABFF Awards will air on BET on Feb. 23.