The American Black Film Festival’s awards night, ABFF Honors, celebrated its second year of recognizing the excellence of today’s black filmmakers and remembering the iconic work of the past, hosted by Cedric the Entertainer at the Beverly Hilton on Sunday night.
Ava DuVernay was awarded the Industry Visionary Award, presented to her by Lena Waithe, who shared that she worked for DuVernay on the director’s first film, I Will Follow.
DuVernay, in an eloquent and heartfelt speech, thanked ABFF for helping her get where she in her career.
“This is where I started, this is where Ryan Coogler started, this is where so many of us began: the black film festival circuit,” DuVernay said. “When Sundance ignores us, when Tribeca ignores us, when SXSW ignores us, our black film festivals are there.”
In the space of three weeks, two historic films will have hit theaters from ABFF alumni: Coogler’s Black Panther, where Coogler is the first black male to direct a film with a $200 million budget, and DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time, debuting March 9, where she is the first black female to direct a film with a $100 million budget.
Power‘s Omari Hardwick was honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award, presented by Armie Hammer, celebrating his multi-faceted career as an actor, producer, spoken word artist and more.
Members of the cast of Martin received the classic television award. Martin Lawrence, Tichina Arnold and Carl Payne II took to the stage, but in a surprise moment for the cast, Tisha Campbell-Martin, who played Gina on the comedy series, appeared onstage just as they began their acceptance speech.
“I know you want to know about #Reboot but, for us, the most important thing is the #Reconnection,” Campbell-Martin said, addressing the looming rumors of a reboot of the ‘90s classic after a tumultuous end to the sitcom with strained cast relationships.
Other winners included OWN’s Queen Sugar, which won television show of the year (drama), presented by Tracee Ellis Ross. Oprah Winfrey posted to Instagram in her excitement over the win, with a photo of the show’s cast accepting, alongside DuVernay, the show’s executive producer.
The comedy category, surprisingly, was a tie between ABC’s Black-ish and HBO’s Insecure.
Issa Rae accepted alongside cast members and expressed surprise at winning, saying, “We’ll take what we can get, it’s a tie! Being alongside Black-ish is an honor, I had a bottle of champagne because I didn’t think we’d be up here!” Rae shared backstage photos on her Instagram the following morning: “Now that I’m sober this fine morning,” thanking the whole of her team for their work.
Tiffany Haddish was presented the Rising Star Award by her Girl’s Trip co-star Regina Hall. Haddish thanked many people in the room, talked about her difficult times before fame, and even shouted out to ABFF Honors sponsor Cadillac, suggesting they may follow suit with an endorsement like Groupon recently did, featuring her in their new ads.
Rounding out the night, legendary actor Billy Dee Williams accepted the Hollywood Legacy Award, presented to him by prolific producer Suzanne De Passe, with a surprise appearance by Star Wars co-star Harrison Ford on tape.
“I guess this is where I come in,” Ford said at the end of the video presentation, “I just wanted to say how much working with you was a pleasure, a revelation. Your vision, your precision, your professionalism, what you brought to the character, the ideas that you had — you’re a pretty package.”
Williams, in an emotional speech, thanked ABFF Honors for “this most meaningful award.”
“Being an African-American actor in the 1960s through the 2000s looked different every decade. We’ve made progress and changes, and there are more to come,” Williams said. “If on [my] journey I’ve helped pave just a little bit of the way for black actors, writers, producers, directors and crew members today than yesterday, then I can say that has been the greatest role of my lifetime.”
ABFF will celebrate its 22nd film festival June 13 to June 17 in Miami Beach, Florida.