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Humanitas Prize Honoree Kenya Barris Is ‘Never Out to Make Bank, He’s There to Make Change’

“Black-ish” creator Kenya Barris’ willingness to tackle tough topics on primetime network television – including police brutality, corporal punishment, and the 2016 election – “opens minds and hearts into a window into a world many folks don’t understand,” said one of the show’s stars, Marcus Scribner, in honoring Barris at the 44th Annual Humanitas Prize awards at the Beverly Hills Hotel on Friday night.

“In the space of 30 minutes, Kenya is able to weave these stories that have never been told on television before, and I think that’s why he’s such an amazing artist,” said Scribner, who plays teenage son Andre Johnson, Jr. on the ABC show. “He’s never out to make bank; he’s there to make change.”

Scribner accepted the Voice for Change award on behalf of Barris, who could not attend due to a family emergency. Humanitas says the award is designed to honor a film or TV writer who “makes high-level, sometimes challenging, choices to create positive systemic change.”

Among the evening’s other honorees were “Friends” and “Grace and Frankie” co-creator Marta Kauffman, who accepted the Kieser Award, which honors storytelling that “not only entertains, but also enriches the viewing public,” according to Humanitas. After being introduced by high-profile attorney Gloria Allred, who was the subject of the Kauffman-produced documentary “Seeing Allred,” Kauffman delivered a keynote explaining that it was not until recently that she began identifying as a writer.

“I get to work with a kick-ass group of people (on ‘Grace and Frankie’), and it is through their eyes that I have begun to use the “W” word when referring to myself,” Kauffman told the audience. “I have started to accept my limitations, and accept my strengths. Maybe I have resisted claiming this identity because, without writers, actors don’t have characters or words. Pictures don’t have stories. Directors don’t have jobs. Maybe the weight of that responsibility was a bit too much to wrap my mind around.”

“The good news is, after 30-plus years of television, I finally understand something that I hope has meaning for you too, especially for you young writers,” she ultimately concluded. “It doesn’t matter whether I claim the word “writer” or not. I simply am one.”

The Humanitas Prize is described as honoring “film and television writers whose work explores the human condition in a nuanced, meaningful way.” Winners donate their $10,000 prize to non-profits of their choosing.

An Independent Feature Film win for the yet-to-be-released “Brian Banks,” written by Doug Atchison, elicited a standing ovation from the audience when the real-life Banks said a few words at the podium. Variety critic Peter Debruge calls the film a “well-meaning and emotionally engaging movie about the California Innocence Project’s incredible battle to exonerate a Long Beach football player who lost 11 years of his life to prison and parole after a high school classmate falsely accused him of rape.”

Banks said he watched Atchison’s 2006 film “Akeelah and the Bee” while serving out his sentence in a small prison cell, and that things had come “full circle” when he heard from the writer. “Brian Banks” will be released in theaters this August.

“Now, more than ever, Humanitas is dedicated to shining a light on stories that reflect who we are as complex, fallible human beings, where we’ve been and where we’re going,” said Cathleen Young, the executive director of Humanitas, in a statement. “The America we all grew up with is now increasingly fractured with new narratives taking root that foment hatred and bigotry and a level of divisiveness that threatens the very future of our democracy by breaking down all the core values that used to unite us. We must do everything we can to nurture and empower the next generation of journalists, film and television writers and playwrights.”

See the full list of 44th Annual Humanitas Prize winners below:

60-minute Drama Category
“God Friended Me,” “Pilot” – Written by Steven Lilien and Bryan Wynbrandt
“Orange Is The New Black,” “Be Free” – Written by Brian Chamberlayne
“The Good Doctor,” “More” – Written by David Shore and Lloyd Gilyard Jr.
“This Is Us,” “This Big, Amazing, Beautiful Life” – Written by Kay Oyegun

30-minute Comedy Category (dual winner)
“Dear White People,” “Volume 2: Chapter VIII” – Written by Jack Moore
“One Day at a Time,” “Hello, Penelope” – Written by Michelle Badillo and Caroline Levich
“The Good Place,” “Jeremy Bearimy” – Written by Megan Amram
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Mid-way to Mid-town” – Written and directed by Amy Sherman-Palladino

Children’s Teleplay Category
“Alexa & Katie,” “Winter Formal, Part 2” – Written by Matthew Carlson
“My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, “Surf And/Or Turf” – Written by Brian Hohlfeld
“Muppet Babies, “You Say Potato, I Say Best Friend” – Written by Laura Sreebny
“Z-O-M-B-I-E-S” – Written by David Light and Joseph Raso, based on “Zombies & Cheerleaders”

Drama Feature Film Category
“Black Panther” – Written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, based on The Marvel Comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
“Boy Erased” – Screenplay by Joel Edgerton, based on the memoir “Boy Erased” by Garrard Conley
“On the Basis of Sex” – Written by Daniel Stiepleman
“What They Had” – Written and directed by Elizabeth Chomko

Comedy Feature Film Category
“Boundaries” – Written and directed by Shana Feste
“Crazy Rich Asians” – Screenplay by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim, based on the novel “Crazy Rich Asians” by Kevin Kwan
“Eighth Grade” – Written and directed by Bo Burnham
“Love, Simon” – Screenplay by Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, based on the novel “Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli

Family Feature Film Category
“Christopher Robin” – Screenplay by Alex Ross Perry and Tom Mccarthy and Allison Schroeder, story by Greg Brooker and Mark Steven Johnson, based on the characters created by A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard
“Incredibles 2” – Written and directed by Brad Bird
“Isle Of Dogs” – Screenplay by Wes Anderson, story by Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, and Kunichi Nomura
“Mary Poppins Returns” – Screenplay by David Magee, screen story by David Magee, Rob Marshall, John Deluca, based upon the “Mary Poppins” stories by P.L. Travers

Independent Feature Film Category
“Brian Banks” – Written by Doug Atchison
“Laugh Or Die” – Screenplay by Heikki Kujanpää and Mikko Reitala
“Sorry To Bother You” – Written and directed by Boots Riley
“The Grizzlies” – Written by Moira Walley-Beckett and Graham Yost
“The Rider” – Written and directed by Chloé Zhao

Documentary Category
“Transmilitary” – Concept by Fiona Dawson, written by Jamie Coughlin and Gabriel Silverman, directed by Gabriel Silverman, co-directed by Fiona Dawson
“Stolen Daughters: Kidnapped By Boko Haram” – Written and produced by Karen Edwards, directed by Gemma Atwal
“The Fourth Estate,” “Part 3: American Carnage” – Directed by Liz Garbus and Jenny Carchman, produced by Liz Garbus, Jenny Carchman, Justin Wilkes
“The Price Of Free” – Story by Davis Guggenheim, Derek Doneen, Sarah Anthony, directed by Derek Doneen, produced by Davis Guggenheim and Sarah Anthony

The David And Lynn Angell College Comedy Fellowship
“Band Of Mothers” – Sabrina Brennan (USC)
“Fernando” – Adam Lujan (NYU)
“Head Case” – Ellie Goodman (Northwestern University)

The Carol Mendelsohn College Drama Fellowship
“Rue Pigalle” – Jessica Shields (Columbia University)
“The Bargeman” – Joe Hemphill (Boston University)
“Wilcox Park” – Omar Willis (USC)

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