Ryan Murphy and 'When They See Us' Win Big at AAFCA Television Honors

Jharrel Jerome, Ryan Murphy, Angela Bassett, Ava DuVernay and Sterling K. Brown -Getty-H 2019
Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images

"I can directly say that there was one person who influenced me in being here and it was a critic, and his name was Roger Ebert,” Ava DuVernay said while accepting the award for best miniseries.

Sunny skies and cool breezes greeted guests on Sunday as they arrived at the California Yacht Club in Marina Del Rey for the first annual African American Film Critics Association TV Honors. Ryan Murphy, Sterling K. Brown, Ava DuVernay and Angela Bassett were among the honorees as the show marked a likely first step in a long campaign of award season glory for many of the winners. 

The awards began with a cocktail reception and a buffet brunch that included a raw seafood bar where guests could pile their plates high with crab legs, lobster claws, raw oysters and shrimp. 

The AAFCA has been in existence for 17 years, but president Gil Robertson IV explained to The Hollywood Reporter why it was the right time to have their first TV awards.

“We decided that this year we would create a stand-alone event because TV is generating so much relevant work," he said. "There certainly seems to be an openness by the industry to tell diverse stories from African-Americans and from other minorities, and that’s a good thing because everyone’s perspective counts and hopefully contributes to a better understanding of the condition of our lives.”

Bassett received the best female performance award for her role on the Fox drama 911, and she quoted the late author Toni Morrison in her acceptance speech.

“This is the time for every artist in every genre to do what he or she does loudly and consistently. It doesn’t matter what the position is, you’ve got to keep asserting your complexity and the originality of life and the multiplicity of it," she said. "The many facets of it. This is about being a complex human being in the world. There is not time for anything else than the best of what you’ve got.”

Murphy was presented with the Icon Award, and he spoke about how an incident that occurred while filming an episode of The People vs. O.J. Simpson made him realize that he needed to become more committed to diversity: “We had a director scheduled for episode six, but she fell out because she had to have surgery and I said, ‘Well, I’ll just do it.’ And what I realized was that was wrong because that episode, however good that it was, was really about Marcia Clark and I should have had in my Rolodex 50 women I could have called immediately and said, 'Hey, come do this for me.'"

Murphy also told the audience that since then, 87 out of 134 episodes of the television he’s produced have been directed by people from diverse and underrepresented communities, including the first episode of TV to be directed by a black trans woman.

Unlike most award shows, this one actually ran ahead of schedule, so much so that organizers decided to have a brief break midway through. No one was complaining about having a few more minutes to enjoy the warm summer sun and a cocktail on the yacht club’s deck, however.

DuVernay received the best limited series award for When They See Us, and she took time to thank the late Roger Ebert, whose wife Chaz Ebert was in attendance, for the important role he played in launching her career.

“Roger Ebert was an extraordinary person who affected my life and career," said DuVernay. "He was the first critic to review me seriously, to take my work seriously. ... You all went to see my first film I Will Follow and he gave it a glorious review and he continued to tweet about it, talk about it and he incessantly tweeted about it and talked about and he made other critics who had ignored me review the film. ... I can directly say that there was one person who influenced me in being here and it was a critic, and his name was Roger Ebert.”

The afternoon’s other winners included The Neighborhood for best TV comedy and Power for best TV drama. When They See Us dominated the awards, taking home honors for best writing, ensemble and breakthrough performance for Jharrel Jerome, as well.