The African American Film Critics Association, the country's preeminent group of black film critics, held its inaugural TV Honors Awards this past Sunday, August 11th, at the California Yacht Club in Marina Del Rey. AAFCA president Gil Robertson IV was joined by RogerEbert.com publisher Chaz Ebert in co-hosting the event. Among the honorees was Tichina Arnold, star of the prize-winning CBS comedy, "The Neighborhood," who Chaz said always brightens the festivities of any awards show.
"It is impossible to ignore TV's popularity and remarkable influence on America's pop culture landscape today," Robertson IV said. "As the stature of the small screen continues to expand, it has become increasingly more diverse and inclusive, a movement that we at AAFCA wholeheartedly embrace and champion. The honorees for our first AAFCA TV Honors represent the very best of television programming. They all successfully put a mirror up to our world to tell stories that are refreshingly diverse and authentic. We feel that this new wave of innovative, thought-provoking storytelling is inspiring and deserving of celebration."
The big winner at the private brunch was "When They See Us," Ava DuVernay's brilliant three-part Netflix series about the exonerated Central Park Five, which earned four accolades including...
BEST LIMITED SERIES: "When They See Us"
DuVernay's acceptance speech was a moving highlight of the evening. In addition to speaking passionately about why it was important to document the innocence of the five young men and the miscarriage of justice that resulted in the loss of so many years (6-13 years in prison) of their lives, Ava talked about how getting to know them during the making of the series enriched her life. She also gave a shout-out to a film critic whom she said was instrumental in her career.
“Roger Ebert was an extraordinary person who affected my life and career," said DuVernay in her speech. "He was the first critic to review me seriously, to take my work seriously. He went to see my first film, 'I Will Follow,' and he gave it a glorious review. He continued to talk about it and he tweeted incessantly about it. 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.”
BEST WRITING: "When They See Us"
Attica Locke accepted the award on behalf of herself and her fellow writers Julian Breece, Robin Swicord, Michael Starbury and DuVernay.
BEST BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE: Jharrel Jerome
The "Moonlight" actor seamlessly portrayed Korey Wise first as a teenager and then as a grown man.
BEST ENSEMBLE: "When They See Us"
In addition to Jerome, other cast members were in attendance including Asante Blackk, Niecy Nash, Marsha Stephanie Blake and Aunjanue Ellis. The cast was praised for creating "a powerfully visceral experience that simultaneously documents and investigates the grand miscarriage of justice committed against Black and brown boys every day, beckoning us to stare it down and do something."
Six more awards were handed out during the ceremony, including...
BEST DRAMA SERIES: "Power"
Heading into its sixth and final season, Starz's "Power" was the winner in this category. It centers on a nightclub owner (Omari Hardwick) and his secret double life as a drug kingpin. Writer Eric Haywood and director Anthony Hemingway were present to accept the award.
BEST COMEDY SERIES: "The Neighborhood"
CBS's L.A.-set sitcom won for its first season. Cedric the Entertainer stars as the neighbor of a white Midwesterner who just moved his family into town. He was joined onstage by creator Jim Reynolds and co-stars Tichina Arnold, Max Greenfield, Marcel Spears, Beth Behrs, and Sheaun McKinney.
BEST MALE PERFORMANCE: Sterling K. Brown, "This Is Us"
The most acclaimed cast member on NBC's hugely popular ensemble drama scored another accolade for his performance as Randall Pearson, the adopted son of a white couple played by Milo Vetimiglia and Mandy Moore. Brown gave a rousing speech once again proving why he is known for his oratorical skills.
BEST FEMALE PERFORMANCE: Angela Bassett, "9-1-1"
Angela Bassett won the evening's female acting accolade for her work on Fox's procedural drama, "9-1-1." "This is the time for every artist in every genre to do what he or she does loudly and consistently," she said, quoting Toni Morrison in her speech. "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. 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.”
THE ICON AWARD: Ryan Murphy
Two major AAFCA prizes were handed out, starting with the Icon Award, which was awarded to Ryan Murphy, who received a standing ovation. He has created of such enduring, taboo-busting shows as "Nip/Tuck," "Glee," "Pose," "9-1-1" and "American Crime Story." The award was presented to Murphy by transgender activists Janet Mock and MJ Rodriguez. Mock serves as a director, writer and co-executive producer on "Pose." Chaz Ebert said that both Murphy and DuVernay embodied Murphy's own definition of power as using your position to help and uplift others.
THE INCLUSION AWARD: CBS
The network was honored for chartering a future built on greater diversity and inclusion with such programs as "The Neighborhood," "God Friended Me," "S.W.A.T.," "All Rise," "Evil" and the NCIS franchise. Robertson noted that CBS is known as “the Tiffany Network” for more reasons than one, "as Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i, is another gem in their crown. She’s a woman who created the Entertainment Diversity & Inclusion department and has been fighting the good fight for years." Smith-Anoa’i was in attendance along with CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl, who accepted the award.
All photos courtesy of AAFCA. For more information, visit the official AAFCA site.