Now in its second year, the BET Presents the American Black Film Festival Honors was a full-blown, star-studded affair that celebrated Denzel Washington, Queen Latifah, Terrence Howard, F. Gary Gray, and others on Friday at the Beverly Hilton.
“I’ve been in here on different days and it never looked like this. This is beautiful,” said Latifah as she accepted the entertainment icon award.
Black actors, musicians, and filmmakers, such as Viola Davis, Lee Daniels, Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Pharrell Williams, and Washington, who was on hand to receive the Hollywood legacy award, attended the event — BET’s first film-based awards show. Host Regina Hall supplied the laughs throughout the ceremony, poking fun at both the stars in attendance and even ABFF founder Jeff Friday.
“That was such a long speech, Jeff’s last name just went from Friday to Saturday,” Hall quipped after the ABFF founder thanked everyone involved and shared a brief history of his organization.
While the awards show — held a week before the Oscars — happened to launch last year following the Academy’s #OscarsSoWhite backlash, Friday said the ceremony, which honors predominantly African-American talent, was not intended to be a reaction to the lack of black Oscar nominees.
“I actually had this planned before the #OscarsSoWhite controversy — just for the record,” Friday said. “What I don’t want is for the viability and the credibility of this [ceremony] to ride on diversity. This is celebrating black culture and we should be able to do this regardless of what is happening in the industry.”
Additional honorees included Howard, who accepted the excellence in the arts award, and “Insecure” creator Issa Rae, who took home the rising star prize. There was also a special 20th anniversary tribute to “Love Jones,” which reunited Nia Long, Larenz Tate, and more stars from the 1997 film, along with director Theodore Witcher. Singer Dionne Farris performed her hit song from the movie, “Hopeless.””
But the evening didn’t only celebrate those in front of the camera. Gray was acknowledged for his directorial achievements such as “Straight Outta Compton,” “Friday,” “Set It Off,” and the upcoming “The Fate of the Furious.”
“There was a sense of awareness,” Gray said of his humble beginnings. “I can kind of look back in hindsight and say that I use that today in movies, but we used it to survive.”
The ceremony closed with a musical performance from Maxwell. But Maxwell kept the crowd going after the taping had wrapped, handing the microphone to Common for a freestyle that seamlessly incorporated BET, ABFF, and the night’s honorees. Following the taping, guests congregated right outside of the ballroom for schmoozing, cocktails, and dancing as a DJ played many New Edition songs.
The cast members of BET’s “The New Edition Story” took photos with fans of the miniseries well after midnight, while other stars, such as Common and Isaiah Washington, relaxed near the patio.
BET president Debra L. Lee confirmed that the ABFF Honors will take the place of the BET Honors, which began annually in February 2008 in Washington D.C. “We started it when the Obamas were in office, but this year it just didn’t seem right,” Lee announced during Thursday night’s ABFF Honors pre-cocktail reception at Cecconi’s.
The second “BET Presents: ABFF Honors” airs on Feb. 22 at 8 p.m. on BET and Centric.