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BET Looks to Make Televised Film Awards Show With ABFF Annually

Solidifying the relatively new marriage between BET and the American Black Film Festival, the network and org joined together again for the BET Experience during its awards show weekend in downtown Los Angeles. L.A. Live held the film fest, titled ABFF Encore, in addition to BET’s annual concert series and expos to expand its once music-centered weekend of events further into television and film.

“We did our first award show together in response to #OscarsSoWhite, and this was the outgrowth of that,” said BET president Debra Lee. “It allows us to shine more light on what’s happening in Hollywood.”

ABFF Encore consisted of multiple screenings of African-American films, as well as panels featuring “Black-ish” showrunner Kenya Barris, actor-director Robert Townsend (“Hollywood Shuffle,” “The Parent ‘Hood”) and actress Tasha Smith (“Empire”). Moderated by Nischelle Turner, Barris spoke candidly to a room of nearly 40 people on Saturday about his experience in entertainment and his keys to success within the industry.

“I’m the only black dude or woman in Hollywood that has a comedy overall deal,” Barris told the audience, full of aspiring writers, directors and actors. “I feel like that’s really sad that there’s 300 others and one black dude? That doesn’t make me feel good; there’s nothing proud in that. That’s what I’m fighting against.”

Barris, who was honored at the ABFF Awards ceremony, shared with Variety that the ABFF Encore panel over the weekend “feels more like home” in relation to other panels that he’s done in the past — such as the Paley Center for Media or the Writers’ Guild of America. Contrary to popular belief, ABFF founder Jeff Friday revealed that the efforts made by his 20-year-old org was not simply a reaction to the Academy’s recent headlines, but that the awards show was initially planned as a private dinner before the cabler came aboard to broadcast the ceremony.

“We had four offers to broadcast that show in reaction to the Oscars, and it’s important to let people know that show was not about what Hollywood didn’t do,” Friday explained. “It was a continuation of our commitment to empower ourselves.”

Both Friday and Lee voiced that their collaboration on the ABFF Awards was “perfect” for their mutual goal to diversify television and film landscapes. The ceremony honored Diahann Carroll, producer Will Packer, Don Cheadle, Regina King and “Creed” director Ryan Coogler at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles.

“The awards show is going to be annual and we hope that what happened this year with Encore, they’re going to be back next year,” Lee added.

The 2016 ABFF Awards was simulcast on BET and Centric in February. Details on the second annual ABFF Awards have yet to be announced.

(Pictured above: BET president Debra L. Lee)

ABFF founder Jeff Friday, Nicole Friday, Kenya Barris and Nischelle Turner at ABFF Encore’s “Life of a Showrunner” panel at BET Experience. Buckner/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

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