Leonardo DiCaprio surprised the audience at the 2020 American Black Film Festival on Sunday night when he emerged onstage to present the excellence in the arts award to his friend and “Django Unchained” co-star Jaime Foxx.
“I love you, man,” Foxx told DiCaprio after opening his speech reminiscing over their working relationship and friendship. “You are my friend and my colleague and this means the world.” Foxx’s latest film, “Just Mercy,” was also awarded the ceremony’s movie of the year award.
The annual ceremony, held at the Beverly Hilton hotel and hosted by actor and comedian Deon Cole, was created to celebrate and uplift black actors, entertainers and artists — enduringly relevant in a year when no actors of color were nominated at the BAFTAS and just one, Cynthia Erivo, was nominated for an Oscar.
In fact, Erivo took home the first trophy of the night, the festival’s rising star award, after being introduced by Tiffany Haddish, herself a recent recipient of the award.
“Today I stand here amidst a world of things I never thought possible, sure in the knowledge that it’s a privilege to still be rising,” said the “Harriet” star. “I’m a person who writes lists — I’ve been writing lists of dreams for some time but this year I stopped. I simply exhausted my lists. But this here today gives me permission to dust off my pen and smooth off my paper and write down a new list. It appears that the dreams I had were simply not big enough.”
Actress CCH Pounder (“NCIS: New Orleans”) welcomed Louis Gossett Jr. to the stage and presented him with the Hollywood Legacy Award.
“Before I speak, I’d like to give credit to a friend,” he began. “Kobe [Bryant], thank you for leaving us this bright light for us to shine so we don’t make any missteps on the way to [receive] the keys to the kingdom. I’ll see you soon. But you’ve left a light and you’ve shown us the way, and for that I’m eternally grateful.”
He also told the audience, “I’m very grateful to you for thinking about me at this age, it’s amazing.”
The cast of HBO’s “The Wire” was honored with the classic television award and though showrunner David Simon couldn’t be in attendance, actor Wendell Pierce and several other of the series’ stars accepted the award on his behalf.
“The more specific you are, the more universal your story becomes,” said Pierce. “‘The Wire’ was as much journalism as it was entertainment. And holding, as it were, a mirror up to nature. But who would’ve thought we could predict the future?
“As we live through the dismantling of democracy right now, ‘The Wire’ was a canary in a mine. We told you so, but did you listen? So now let’s hope that the lasting lesson of ‘The Wire’ is to exercise your right of self-determination: Be counted this year and vote. Because we must remember that if we are to honor our ancestors, there is blood on that ballot box.”
“Snowfall” actor Damson Idris introduced the In Memoriam portion of the program, which included tributes to “Snowfall” creator John Singleton and retired NBA star Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna.
Lena Waithe was the recipient of the evening’s industry renaissance award, which was presented to her by “Queen & Slim” director Melina Matsoukas and “Dear White People” creator Justin Simien.
“Safe art disappears into the background quite easily,” said Waithe. “It passes through us. It doesn’t keep us up at night, it doesn’t make us take our destiny into our own hands. Here’s to no longer playing it safe. Here’s to letting Twitter come for you for being yourself.”