For all of the Hollywood heavyweights — including Quincy Jones, Jamie Foxx, Sean Combs, Chadwick Boseman and Queen Latifah — who flocked to Monday’s premiere of Netflix’s “The Black Godfather” at Paramount Studios, the vibe was more akin to a family affair. That’s literally what this doc about the life and times of pioneering music executive, film producer and unofficial presidential advisor Clarence Avant was for the streaming giant’s chief content officer, Ted Sarandos. The project has been a labor of love for his wife, Nicole Avant, who served as its producer.
“It is about my father-in-law,” Sarandos said in his introduction to the A-Listers gathered in the theater. “This is a movie that my wife produced … kind of a conflict there, yes. Truth be told, this is a film that was getting made. This is a story that had to be told. And what am I supposed to do? Let it go to HBO or something? Can you imagine?”
On a serious note, Sarandos said, “Clarence has been for me … the same thing he has been for many of the people in this room: a great mentor, a father figure and a grandfather figure that we are thankful for every single day.” Well, maybe not every day: “He did teach our kids to be better negotiators, which is not always great, but we appreciate him,” Sarandos joked before getting gushy. “It should be no surprise that Nicole produced a great film,” he said of his wife. “Nicole produces greatness every day.”
Sarandos was less effusive about ten minutes prior while grabbing a box of popcorn at the concession stand. When asked about the reaction he’s received for his tactful threat to pull Netflix productions out of Georgia following the state’s abortion ban, he smiled and said simply, “Let’s let the statement speak for itself — if that’s OK? — tonight.” (In the statement Sarandos released a week ago, he warned: “We will work with the ACLU and others to fight [the ban] in court. Given the legislation has not yet been implemented, we’ll continue to film there … [but] should it ever come into effect, we’d rethink our entire investment in Georgia.”)
His wife was more talkative earlier on the carpet. “I’m proud of my husband all the time,” Nicole Avant told Variety. “I don’t want to talk about what he does, but I’m happy, you know? I always support him and decisions that I think that he is making right. And he was really — from what I know — supporting women as well as supporting the people of Georgia, everybody on the sets.”
Of the other man in her life — her larger-than-life father — Avant insisted that he never let show biz get in the way of dad duties. And nothing humanizes an industry titan like having to chauffeur your daughter’s friends around town in the pre-Uber era. “My father always showed up,” she said. “He never missed a school recital. Always went to every baseball game. I was just laughing with my friends from high school about how we used to take the bus down to Pico Bowling Alley, and my dad was the one who picked us all up at 11:30 and got everybody home by midnight. He was still doing all these things and picking us up at the bowling alley. So he didn’t really miss a beat,” she said. Which is all the more remarkable considering that his parenting skills were self-taught: “His father left him and he didn’t have a father figure, so he made a decision that he was going to show up [for his family].”
Then it’s no surprise that Avant’s family — biological and extended — showed up for him on this evening, including longtime friends like MLB record holder Hank Aaron and former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, who relied on electric wheelchairs to make their way down the carpet. “If there had not been a Clarence Avant, there would be no Henry Aaron,” the legendary player told Variety. “Clarence was the reason that I was able to accomplish all I did in baseball. He had that much influence on me.”
Of course, Avant’s influence extended beyond the entertainment industry — and, in this instance, sports — and into politics: Former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both sing his praises in the film. As did Andrew Young. “He got my number from Harry Belafonte,” Young told Variety, recalling their very first conversation. “Harry was the one who was pushing me to run for Congress — he called Clarence and gave him my number. Clarence called me and said: ‘Are you running for Congress? In Georgia? Are you crazy?’ And then he said: ‘Well, if you’re crazy enough to run, I’m crazy enough to help you. What can I do?’ So he was one of the first people to get behind me. That was 1969 — it was right after Dr. King was killed in 1968,” said the early civil rights leader, who was a close confidant to MLK before becoming mayor of Atlanta.
Young shared the night’s most surprising — and decidedly optimistic — take on Georgia’s abortion ban. “I think we’re going to change that,” Young told Variety. “My daughter is the executive director of the ACLU,” he added, perhaps explaining the Sarandos shout-out to the organization in his statement. “She says that there are a couple things that we’ve got to do. One: There were 16 districts in the general assembly that [Georgia gubernatorial nominee for the Democratic party] Stacey Abrams won that didn’t have a challenge at the assembly. So coming back to the next election, we could change the whole general assembly with 16 seats. There are already some phenomenal (leaders), mostly women, who are revved up to follow up on this.
“It might turn out to be a very good thing,” Young added. “Because when we’re not under attack, we get lazy. When we are under attack, we get back and we straighten things out. And I think that’s where we are now.”
Others attending the film’s Paramount premiere included Pharrell Williams, who contributed an end-titles theme, and the doc’s director, Reginald Hudlin, as well as a good number of those who appear in his interview footage, including Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Diane Warren, Jon Platt, Andre Harrell, Joe Smith and the subject’s Alexander Avant. Also catching “Black Godfather” Monday were Laura Dern, Jimmy Kimmel, Vince Vaughn, Cedric the Entertainer, Eric B, Debra Lee, Richard Brooks and Norman Lear.
(Pictured above: Ted Sarandos, Nicole Avant, Chadwick Boseman and Laura Dern. Pictured below: Jacqueline Avant, Billye Aaron, Hank Aaron, Ted Sarandos, Nicole Avant, Clarence Avant, Andrew Young and Carolyn Young.)