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Sterling K. Brown, James Franco, Kumail Nanjiani Among Those Feted at Inaugural IndieWire Honors

IndieWire recognized six of today’s biggest talents — James Franco, Issa Rae, Sterling K. BrownKumail NanjianiDiane Kruger, and Mary J. Blige at its inaugural IndieWire Honors Thursday night at No Name Club in Los Angeles.

Each recipient spoke so briefly after being presented with their award that Franco, when accepting the vanguard award in film, looked embarrassed to say, “I wrote a whole speech!” and rushed to condense it to one minute. “Insecure” co-creator and star Rae took home the vanguard award in television at the ceremony.

Brown, who received the lead performance in television honor, said that he realized his success when he met Oprah Winfrey — and she was excited to meet him. “We were doing an Actors on Actors interview [with Variety] and she was talking to Thandie Newton and heard that I was in the building,” he told Variety. “I was doing my photo shoot and before I could even see her, I heard Oprah say, ‘Sterling K. Brown.‘ She appeared from around the corner and came over to hug me. My jaw was probably hanging on my knee.”

Before receiving the creative independence award in film, Nanjiani told Variety that critic favorite “The Big Sick” became possible when he stopped trying to make something that people wanted to watch and shifted to making something he wanted to watch and would feel proud of. “You have to trust yourself. Ultimately, there aren’t that many rules to these stories,” he said. “Sometimes people get stuck in patterns and formulas, but you just have to tell the story you want to tell and trust that people will connect to it on their own terms.”

Kruger, star of “In The Fade,” which recently began screening in the U.S., received the honor for lead performance in film. “This event shines a light not just on the movie, but also on all the victims and survivors of terrorism,” she told Variety.

“‘In The Fade’ opened me up to a lot of empathy and awareness of what terrorism does to us as human beings.” Kruger added that she met with about 30 families who have lost children and loved ones to acts of terrorism.

Blige, who received the honor for breakthrough performance in film, expressed to Variety that her portrayal of Florence Jackson in “Mudbound” taught her self-acceptance. “Florence has freed me in more ways than I could have imagined. This character was stripped down to nothing. She taught me that beauty is in your heart,” Blige said. “[Director] Dee Rees completely opened me up because she was such a beautiful person and she knew exactly what she wanted.”

Dave Franco, who stars alongside his brother, James, in “The Disaster Artist,” showed up to support him at the event. He told Variety that working on the film reinforced the brothers’ shared “out of the box” sensibilities. “This was the first time the two of us have worked together in a significant way,” Dave said. “I enjoy working with my brother and hope to continue working with him.”

Abbi Jacobson was also on hand to take home the first-ever comedic storyteller of the year award from the Harold Ramis Film School, based at Chicago’s the Second City. “We’re in a time where things aren’t wonderful every day. The most amazing compliment is to hear that ‘Broad City’ can make people laugh at what’s going on or escape it,” she told Variety. “I feel very lucky to be able to do that.”

Host Nick Thune joked that the bartenders should receive their own honors for quenching the crowd’s thirst with endless cocktails. Additional guests at the event Rees, Prentice Penny (executive producer, “Insecure”), and Bria Vinaite (“The Florida Project”).

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