As Hollywood prepares to celebrate its biggest night in film, some of the industry’s biggest names in black entertainment — including Idris Elba, Michael Ealy, Boris Kodjoe, Anthony Hemingway, Stephen Hill, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Evan Ross, Leon Bridges and Carl Weathers — packed Mr. C Beverly Hills hotel on Friday to kick off the fourth annual Icon Mann event.
Actors, journalists and Hollywood executives lined the 12th floor Starlight Ballroom — talking, laughing and exchanging handshakes as music played in the background.
The event, which culminates in an exclusive Power 50 dinner, celebrates black men in entertainment and provides a community that fosters support.
“It’s about creating the space for black men to have great fellowship of like-minded consciousness and to come together and talk about how they want to improve the world around them,” said Tamara Houston, founder and CEO of Icon Mann.
As a talent manager and producer, Houston said her first goal was to start with entertainers, because of the wealth of influence they carry.
“If we can get those men on a similar thought pattern of connectivity, we’re going to get more diversity in stories, we’re going to get more diversity in character, and what happens when you do that is you start to change a consciousness, and then we are part of the inclusion.”
Honoree Richard Roundtree, who rose to fame for his portrayal in “Shaft,” sparked Houston’s creation of Icon Mann after she heard him say at an Essence Festival that he had never been in a room filled with the fellowship of black people in the industry.
“Given what we’re going through politically and with the Academy Awards, this is an important evening for us to come together and celebrate each other,” Roundtree said. “We are as important as any other man walking, and to not be acknowledged for the successes that we have had is an injustice.”
It was the consensus among the men in the room that diversity in film and entertainment be celebrated –especially with the lack of inclusion with this year’s Oscar nominees.
“We go to the movie theaters and we want to see ourselves on the screen and we want to see the stories that we can tell,” said Steven Caple Jr., whose film “The Land” recently premiered at Sundance. “We have been well-aware of the kind of stories that have been portrayed about us, but there is less and less of us behind the screen or on camera.”
Caple Jr. said he feels it’s one of his responsibilities to showcase ethnic groups on the screen.
“Straight Outta Compton” star Aldis Hodge said the cultural contribution of ethnic groups — Hispanics, Asians, Indians — has been downplayed. “Our audience is a mix of colors. That’s who we service, and we have a responsibility to acknowledge them by showing them that we recognize who they are.”
While much of the diversity discussion has centered on the Oscars, the stars in the room felt the discussion needs to go much further — and it isn’t only about recognition.
“The infrastructure of Hollywood is extremely exclusionary,” said Roland Martin, journalist and host of News One Now. “A few will get in and they will rise to a certain level, but that’s it. Michael Bay is worth half a billion dollars. Show me one black director.”
The Oscar controversy did not take away from Icon Mann’s main purpose.
The event, which consisted of a cocktail party, dinner and after-party, also included a performance from Grammy nominated singer Mali Music and a group photo with the honorees.