Photo: (Left to right) Robert Townsend, Zola Mashariki, Shonda Rhimes
A room full of history, talent, and inspiration all rooted in African American greatness: This was the shining definition of an event that set off the very first weekend of Black History Month as the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) held its 5th annual awards show. Honoring excellence in those who’ve helped put power and support behind diversified images, characters and perceptions of color in cinema, the evening came on a cool, foggy evening in Hollywood, California. Thespians like Oprah (Lee Daniels’ The Butler) and Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) were among those honored for their on-screen performances.
But the night wasn’t just about giving accolades to those in front of the camera. Love was shown to power movers behind the stories. Writer Shonda Rhimes and writer/director Robert Townsend bestowed Fox Searchlight's Senior Vice President and Director of Production, Zola Mashariki, with the Ashley Boone award, named in memory of one of Hollywood’s first black studio executives.
Other African Americans, such as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs and Directors Guild of America President Paris Barclay, were praised and awarded as well. Writer/director Ryan Coogler was cheered on by Forest Whitaker who attended not only to accept Oprah’s award, but to support Coogler’s accolade for his film Fruitvale Station. Some who aren’t of color, but have made amazing strides in supporting the black cinema movement were also noted, like Bob and Harvey Weinstein along with Variety film critic Justin Chang. “I couldn’t be more thrilled with the outcome of this year’s show,” said Gil Robertson, AAFCA president and co-founder in a statement. “Our goal with this event is to provide our guests with an opportunity to mix, mingle and celebrate the tremendous gifts that the film industry gives to the world.”
This room of who’s who was marinated with rich flavors of history-making efforts that paved the wobbly way to today’s long, overdue assumptions on the dynamic, social impact and money-making potential of African American cinema. Emmy nominated producer Debra Martin Chase sat at the table with Oscar winner Louis Gossett, Jr. He got up to shake hands and take pictures with legendary actor/director Bill Duke. Sundance’s first black female best director winner Ava DuVernay graced the podium. Hosts Orlando Jones (Sleepy Hollow) and Salli Richardson-Whitfield (I Will Follow) dropped jokes. Actor/producer Isaiah Washington (Blue Caprice) walked the room snapping shots. Townsend smiled while enjoying a laugh with Oscar nominated writer/producer Reginald Hudlin. Supporters looked on. Young up and comers stared in awe. And the long, potent night became one of unforgettable moments and memories made in colorful, poignant strokes of black power and history.