Marta Kauffman and Kenya Barris Honored at 44th Annual Humanitas Awards

Marta Kauffman and Gloria Allred - Getty

"The Humanitas prize is not about the biggest box office," Humanitas president Ali LeRoi told The Hollywood Reporter about why the awards are more than just a popularity contest.

Boots Riley, Bill Lawrence and Marta Kauffman joined hundreds of guests Friday night at the Beverly Hills Hotel to celebrate the 44th annual Humanitas Awards. The honors are intended to recognize film and television writers who promote "human dignity, meaning and freedom" through their writing.

Even in a crowded awards-show field, the Humanitas Awards stand apart not just because they recognize high-quality work, but also because they honor writers whose scripts have had a positive impact on humanity.

Kauffman, creator of Friends and Grace and Frankie, was honored with the Kieser Award for her lifetime body of work. She told The Hollywood Reporter why this award, in particular, is so meaningful to her.

"This is from writers, which is always the greatest honor and it's about writing that promotes human dignity and helps the world in some way, by making people laugh, by making people cry, whatever it is, so I feel so grateful that people feel that my body of work amounts to something that has anything to do with human dignity," said Kauffman.

Before the ceremony started, guests enjoyed a champagne reception under the white rose chandelier just outside the hotel's ballroom. Dinner consisted of baked chicken with Brussels sprouts, and the constant flow of wine from the servers and quick-witted jokes from emcee David Hudgins kept everyone’s spirits high.

The awards show’s most emotional moment occurred when Doug Atchison won the Independent Feature Film Award for the movie Brian Banks, a true story about a young star athlete whose football dreams are ruined when he is imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.

Atchison brought Banks to the stage, where he was greeted with a rousing standing ovation. Banks told the audience how he was first exposed to Atchinson’s work.

"I knew that if I was going to put my life out there for the world to see, it had to be right. It had to be correct,” he said. "A name popped up — Doug Atchison. I looked up that name and right away a movie popped up, Akeelah and the Bee. I watched this man’s film while sitting in a small cell, serving out a six-year sentence for a crime I didn’t commit. Lo and behold, years later, we’d come full circle and I’d be standing next to him onstage now congratulating him."

Black-ish creator Kenya Barris was honored with the Voice for Change Award. He was unable to receive the award himself due to a family emergency, so he sent Black-ish castmember Marcus Scribner to accept it on his behalf.

Scribner told the audience that what sets Barris apart is his willingness to spotlight controversial issues, such as police brutality and the use of racial slurs.

"He’s an artist that’s who’s not afraid to take a risk and take a stand. … By sharing some of these struggles that young black men experience on primetime network television, it opens minds and hearts into a world that many folks don’t understand," said Scribner. "Kenya’s mind is insane — the things he comes up with and is willing to put in front of network executives and say, 'No, we’re airing this.'"

The Humanitas Awards is also a ceremony that gives back, with every winner being given $10,000, which they get to donate to a non-profit of their choice that encourages young writers to excel.

The night’s other big winners included Steven Lilien and Bryan Wynbrandt for their 60-minute pilot God Friended Me, as well as a split of the best 30-minute comedy award prize between Amy Sherman-Palladino for the "Mid-Way to Mid-town" episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Jack Moore for his "Volume 2: Chapter VII" episode of Dear White People.