The atmosphere at the Critics Choice Black Celebration of Cinema and Television event on Monday evening, December 5, can be summed up as joyous. The recognition event honors outstanding work in film and television and pays tribute to those who have paved the way so others may soar. Honorees and presenters gathered for the star-studded event with Angela Bassett, Berry Gordy, Quinta Brunson, Danielle Deadwyler, Michael B. Jordon, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Jonathan Majors, and Billy Dee Williams. The host for the evening, stand-up comedian and hip-hop artist Bill Bellamy offered hilarious commentary.
The Critics Choice Awards organization, based in Los Angeles, consists of broadcast, radio, and online critics—established journalists who review films and television. Some members of the group vote for only film awards, and some vote only for television awards, while others vote for both. During the year, we can attend other special events such as the Super, Real, Latino, Asian, and Documentary Awards—our culminating event is in January 2023, the Critics Choice Awards, which honor the best in Film and Television.
Red Carpet arrivals were a stunning display of gorgeous gowns intermixed with new-wave fashion, setting a chic-yet-anything-goes look. Angela Bassett (there for a Career Achievement Award) wore a hot pink silk and sleeveless sequin gown with a side accent. She is currently seen in "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever," and the Oscar buzz for Best Supporting Actress is in her favor. Bassett has an exceptional quality; she's glamorous and kind yet also focused on her work.
Brian Tyree Henry (there for a Supporting Actor Award), who can currently be seen in "Causeway" on Apple TV+ and "Bullet Train" on Netflix, gave a heartwarming acceptance speech. Wearing a bright orange suit, he referred to the crowd as his mentors and friends who gave him a place to be seen and heard. I congratulated Brian on his award before the ceremony and told him he was someone I was hoping to meet as I couldn't wait to tell him that I believed his accent was so great in the movie "Bullet Train" that I thought he was British. "He gave me a big grin and said, 'You know, that is the highest compliment I've ever had on my work; wow, thanks so much.'" He's a true rising star and already slated for future films, "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" in 2023 and the Untitled "Godzilla vs. Kong" sequel in 2024.
I've always enjoyed chatting with directors, and meeting Gina Prince-Bythewood (who received the Director Award for Film for "The Woman King") was insightful. I complimented her on bringing another critical women's story to the big screen and asked about the ultra-action physicality in making the film and how she dealt with that. She said that her job was to inspire the cast. However, she said that they in fact inspired her by their willingness to make all scenes look great.
Prince-Bythewood said, "Yes, they inspired me by their work ethic, passion, and kindness, they wanted to be great, and they knew the importance of honoring these warrior ancestors. That's an incredible environment to be in. You don't always get support for each other, their healthy competition, and their love for each other on a movie set, but this just felt blessed. They would show up even when they weren't working to show support and watch each other. They bonded as in the film and formed a sisterhood to work together; it was magnificent."
Damien E. Smith, who played Sgt. Maj. James Ingraham in the film "Emancipation," upon meeting me on the Red Carpet said, "What, you write for RogerEbert.com, the king of film critique? Oh, man!" I replied, "Yes, I do, and I attended film screenings with him and interviewed him; we were in the same critics' group: the Chicago Film Critics Association."
I asked, "What did Roger teach you?" Smith said, "Between the ages of 7-12, I would sneak out of my room at night to watch his movie critique show with Gene; I'm a cinephile and loved his articulate critiques about film reviews. I wanted to know what he thought, he would get to the point and explain the meaning as if he was talking directly to me. He's awesome!"
I replied, "Certainly, I have to agree with you. And I'll tell you a quick answer Roger gave me about being a film critic. I asked Roger what the key to being a great film critic is, and he replied, 'To be honest and real.'"
Lauren E. Banks, an actor in the television show "City on the Hill," presented Angela Bassett with her Career Achievement Award. She told me, "Angela is a full 'Master Acting' class; her commitment and full embodiment of character transformation is incredible." She raved about her performance in "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" as I readily concurred with her assessment. In my opinion, Bassett is breathtaking in the film, and her performance is one of the best I've seen this year.
Elegance Bratton (who won the Social Justice Award) was kicked out of his home for being gay at age 16 and spent ten years homeless before joining the Marines. He graduated from Columbia University and received his MFA from NY University Tisch School of the Arts for directing and writing. He wrote and directed the personal film, "The Inspection," starring Jeremy Pope, based on his life. I asked him how it felt to write such a personal story and his hope for the film. Bratton said, "It was not easy putting my life out there, yet I feel a need to inspire others. We live in a world that tells everybody that you can't do it, and sometimes you start to repeat it to yourself; my goal is to inspire people to say, I can do what I want to make my life and the world better."
The annual event has grown since it began, having honored just one film at the very first event, "20 Feet from Stardom," expanding to honor television categories last year. Now in its fifth year, the Celebration of Black Cinema & Television recognized 15 categories, honoring standout achievements in Black filmmaking and television.
Shawn Edwards, the Executive Producer of the show, told me in September that it was going to be hard to top last year's show. I believe he has, according to the atmosphere alone. The room full of jubilant people, seasoned talent, and newcomers to entertainment spoke for itself. I asked him, "What surprised you the most about the event?" He replied, "How much the honorees appreciated being honored. It was also surprising seeing how much love and joy was in the room. It literally felt like a family reunion." He was most pleased to see Motown finally get recognition for what they accomplished on the film side with movies like "Lady Sings the Blues," "The Wiz," "Mahogany," and "The Last Dragon." The movies they produced are cultural touchstones, and whenever you make Berry Gordy, the founder and chairman of Motown, dance, you know you have done something right. And how did he feel at the conclusion? "I felt really good after the event was over. Everything went very well but already on to planning the event for next year," he replied.
Berry Gordy (who received the Icon Award) was someone I was very anxious to see that night; amazingly, he came out dancing, which brought everyone to a standing applause and cheers for the musical legend behind Motown Records in Detroit, Michigan. Flanked by Billy Dee Williams of "Lady Sings the Blues" 1972, the legendary pair was a hit.
Michael B. Jordan received the Melvin Van Peebles Trailblazer Award for his overall contribution to the industry and in celebration of his directorial debut with the United Artists Releasing film, "Creed III." In addition to directing the film, he reprises his role as Adonis Creed and produces under his Outlier Society production banner.
The Critics Choice Association's Celebration of Black Cinema & Television will be televised on KTLA in January and shown nationwide on Nexstar stations throughout February in honor of Black History Month.
The Celebration of Black Cinema & Television honored the following, per the official site:
Actor Nicco Annan will receive the Actor Award for Television for his role as Uncle Clifford on the STARZ hit series, "P-Valley."
Writer and director Elegance Bratton will accept the Social Justice Award for his inspiring work on the A24 film, "The Inspection."
Emmy award-winning writer, producer, and actress, Quinta Brunson will be presented with the Actress Award for Television for her role as Janine Teagues on ABC's hit series, "Abbott Elementary," which she created and also executive produces.
Actress Danielle Deadwyler will be honored with the Actress Award for Film for her role as Mamie Till-Mobley in the Orion Pictures and United Artists Releasing film, "Till."
Actor Brian Tyree Henry will be awarded the Supporting Actor Award for his performance as James Aucoin in Apple Original Films and A24's, "Causeway."
Actor Quincy Isaiah will also accept the Rising Star Award presented by IMDbPro for his role as Magic Johnson on the HBO Original series, "Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty," available to stream on HBO Max.
Emmy and Critics' Choice Award-nominated Jonathan Majors will be presented with the Actor Award for Film for his role as Jesse Brown in Columbia Pictures and Black Label Media aerial war epic, "Devotion."
The Director Award for Film will be awarded to director Gina Prince-Bythewood for her work on TriStar Pictures and Entertainment One's critically-acclaimed "The Woman King."