The event, presented by the African American Film Critics Association, was held virtually, with Emmy-nominee Yvette Nicole Brown hosting the award show.
Honorees including Wanda Sykes, Naomi Ackie and Omar Sy beamed in from home to accept their honors. The awards were presented by more than two dozen AAFCA members, including AAFCA president Gil Robertson, who highlighted what made each project impactful and each artist exceptional.
Breakout Creative Award recipient Coel mentioned the virtual nature of the ceremony in her speech, saying she looked forward to the day when she’s able to attend the ceremony in person and commune with the other Black artists who’ve inspired her.
“I made a story, which was filmed all the way across the pond, on my European continent, could be seen and heard by you guys in America, by Black people in America,” Coel said. “That you saw yourselves, rightly so, in the work, it means a lot.”
She added: “The work, both on screen and in the books, [the] sound, music of Black America has been fundamental to who I am. It’s shaped me as a person, and that’s why it feels like such an honor to receive this award.”
The event was initially set to be held at the California Yacht Club in Marina Del Rey, with the guest list reduced to 50 percent capacity from previous years, before AAFCA decided to shift to a virtual presentation due to rising COVID concerns.
While accepting her honor for best actress, “Lovecraft Country” star Jurnee Smollett shouted out the show’s ultra-talented ensemble, paying special thanks to her “creative soul sister,” the show’s creator Misha Green, and Jonathan Majors, who she called “the thunder to my lightning.” Majors was also recognized during the event, accepting the best actor prize.
“I just want to take a brief moment and just say, this is not in any ways about the work, but who the work is for, and what the work can do,” Majors said.
“In a year of such hurt and pain within our culture, it moves me that the story of Atticus and the characters of ‘Lovecraft’ touched our community, and continued the protest and the movement forward,” he continued. “I want to dedicate this to all our fallen brothers and sisters, and say, we continue, push on, we move forward.”
The award show also featured sneak peek clips from the CW spin-off “All-American: Homecoming”; Netflix’s “Family Reunion” and “Aida Twist, Scientist”; and Season 6 of “Queen Sugar” (which won three awards). Creator Ava DuVernay accepted the OWN show’s best writing award, while star Rutina Wesley did the honors when the show won best drama. Wesley was joined by costars Kofi Siriboe and Dawn-Lyen Gardner to accept the Impact Award.
Barry Jenkins’ “The Underground Railroad” took home two awards (for best director and best limited series”), with the Oscar-winning filmmaker accepting both honors. McQueen picked up Game Changer Award for his anthology series, “Small Axe,” pointing out the the important relationship between creators and critics.
“The way you embrace me and my work ever since ’12 Years a Slave’ has been wonderful,” McQueen said. “And when I think back at that movie, I think of someone [calling the film], ‘your impossible movie.’ But we have made the impossible possible as a collective of Black critics and filmmakers.”
The final award of the event went to Lear, who was honored with Legend Award. In his virtual acceptance speech, Lear said, “I’ve always felt that laughter adds time to one’s life, and so I will not mention a name that I don’t feel has particularly and independently and personally added time to my life.”
He went on to thank a laundry list of collaborators, who “have moved every piece and made me laugh in parts of my body I didn’t even know existed,” including Marla Gibbs and Bern Nadette Stanis (who appeared in a pre-taped package celebrating Lear’s achievements), as well as “Good Times” stars John Amos, Esther Rolle, “The Jeffersons” star Sherman Hemsley, “Sanford and Sons” star Redd Foxx, plus relative newcomers Laverne Cox, Jamie Foxx, DuVernay, Dave Chappelle, Kerry Washington and Kenya Barris.
Robertson also announced that proceeds from the event will benefit Lear’s foundation, People for the American Way.
The full list of 2021 AAFCA TV Honors winners:
Best Actress: Jurnee Smollett, “Lovecraft Country,” HBO
Best Actor: Jonathan Majors, “Lovecraft Country,” HBO
Best Drama: “Queen Sugar,” OWN
Best Comedy: “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” HBO (accepted by creator/star Robin Thede)
Best New Show: “The Equalizer,” CBS (accepted by Debra Martin Chase & Universal Studio Group Chairman Pearlena Igbokwe)
Best Limited Series: “The Underground Railroad,” Amazon Prime Video (accepted by Barry Jenkins)
Best Docuseries: “Exterminate All the Brutes,” HBO (accepted by director Raoul Peck) and “High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America,” Netflix, (accepted by director Roger Ross Williams, Fabienne Toback and Karis Jagger)
Best Writing: “Queen Sugar,” OWN (accepted by Ava DuVernay)
Best Director: Barry Jenkins, “The Underground Railroad,” Amazon Prime Video
Best Movie: “Sylvie’s Love,” Amazon Prime Video (accepted by writer/director/producer Eugene Ashe)
Special Achievement Honors
Game Changer Award: Steve McQueen for “Small Axe,” his Amazon Prime Video five-part limited series.
Salute to Excellence Award: Wanda Sykes (“The Upshaws,” Netflix) for expanding the parameters of diversity and inclusion for both the Black and LGBTQ communities.
Horizon Award: Naomi Ackie for her standout performances in Netflix’s “Master of None” and Amazon Prime Video’s “Small Axe.”
Breakout Creative Award (presented with Adcolor): Michaela Coel for her limited series HBO “I May Destroy You.”
Best International Production Award: “Lupin,” Netflix’s cat-and-mouse series set in Paris and starring Omar Sy (accepted by Sy and creator George Kay)
Impact Award: “Queen Sugar,” OWN
Inclusion Award: HBO/HBO Max (accepted by John Murchison, Senior Vice President, HBO Programming and WarnerMedia Talent Development)
Legend Award: Norman Lear