AAFCA Awards Keep Focus on Celebration of Black Films

Ryan Coogler and John Singleton attend the 7th Annual AAFCA Awards - H 2016
Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images for AAFCA

“It doesn’t matter if a certain organization, the Academy, or another organization excludes our black artists," said director John Singleton. "We know that what we do no matter what is going to propagate over time."

If there was an expectation that Oscars snubbed actors would air frustrations at the lack of diversity while at the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) Awards Wednesday night, it didn’t happen.

The universal message at Hollywood’s Taglyan Complex was of celebration more than disappointment. Winners including John Singleton, Ryan Coogler and the casts of Straight Outta Compton and Black-ish took the time to uplift and recognize each other rather than to show disdain over not being recognized.

Academy Award-nominated director John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood) said he was “tired of having the [diversity] conversation.” After actor Courtney B. Vance (The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story) presented him with the 2016 AAFCA Legacy Award, Singleton used his time on the podium to speak to a room including DeVon Franklin, Anthony Anderson, Tyrese, Sanaa Lathan, Terrence J, Aldis Hodge, Rick Famuyiwa and Franklin Leonard that the mainstream exclusion was not important tonight or in the long run.  

“We’ve been fighting for inclusion ever since the chains have been put on. Sometimes when you make such an emphasis of inclusion you lose sight of the big picture, you lose sight of what the big end game is,” said Singleton. “In terms of pop culture in this country, we've already won the end game. It doesn’t matter if a certain organization, whether it's the Academy, or another organization excludes our black artists. We know that what we do no matter what is going to propagate over time. It’s going to change not only our own people but everybody else.”

Singleton added, "Be more concerned about what we do amongst ourselves and whether we're hiring each other. Be more concerned on whether I'm looking out for you and whether you are looking out for me.That's what I've always done ever since I've been in this business. I've looked out for other people of color and I've tried to make sure as I've learned from Spike [Lee] to bring as many people with me as possible."

When this year’s producer of the Oscars, Reginald Hudlin, took the stage to accept the inaugural Salute to Excellence award, all eyes were on Hudlin to possibly address the elephant in the room after the issue of stars attending and even watching the show have been expressed and new Academy rules were unveiled. But after Hudlin thanked his support system, he simply said, “Oh, I guess someone wanted me to say something about the Oscars. It’s on Feb. 28. Please watch the show. It’s going to be fantastic.”

After accepting his honor Hudlin told THR what was most important about tonight was not discussing how the diversity conversation will affect the Chris Rock-hosted Oscars, but being able to be honored by his fellow peers and film critics of color that night.

“I’ve worked with Black institutions my whole life and they are crucial,” said Hudlin “They are not competitive with mainstream or however you want to describe other platforms. They are complimentary. It’s a big deal to be honored by your peers. I’m very grateful.”

Later in the night, Singleton went on to have nothing but praise while presenting the award for best director to Creed’s Ryan Coogler who expressed that he felt the greatest knowing that his film resonated.

“What me and Michael [B. Jordan] would talk about is will our people feel it?” said Coogler. “We make this big huge movie and we want it to be successful both domestic and internationally but how much of us do we put into it? How will we measure if our people will feel it? It’s no true way to ever measure getting an award like this from film critics like you guys, from an organization like this, to be able to share the stage with legends like this. It’s the best feeling an artist can have.”

Roger Ebert’s widow, Chaz, noted the night was “not born out of no African-Americans got nominated for Oscars. It’s born out of celebration that we have a place to go where we can celebrate black films, we can celebrate Ryan Coogler for his accomplishment in Creed. Kudos to Sylvester Stallone for his Rocky series, but he wouldn’t have gotten the accolades he got this year had it not been for Ryan Coogler directing that movie and writing it.”

Special honors were also given to HBO Films (accepted by President Len Amato) and Lionsgate's Codeblack Films’ Jeff Clanagan who reminded the audience that their is an audience for black films overseas and called for artists in the room to continue to create more material, whether it gets greenlighted by the big studios or not.

“We got this big thing called the internet now so you can reach anybody at any time," he said. "If they don’t do business with you, you can stage the show. We have enough talented people in the room. There is money in the room. We should be doing for ourselves versus of always chasing the studios.”

The full list of AAFCA winners is here.