American Black Film Festival honors Denzel Washington, Issa Rae and others in star-studded ceremony

Jeff Friday, left, founder of the American Black Film Festival Honors, and Regina Hall, this year's host, speak at the ABFF Honors ceremony on Feb. 17 in Beverly Hills.
(Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images)

“All my crushes and inspirations are in this room, so holler at me,” actress Issa Rae said shortly after accepting her award for rising star at the American Black Film Festival Honors.

Hosted by actress Regina Hall at the Beverly Hilton, the ABFF Honors celebrate and uplift black actors, entertainers and artists, especially crucial just a year after the #OscarsSoWhite controversy illuminated the lack of diversity and inclusivity at Hollywood’s most prestigious awards shows.

“I’m so grateful that ABFF, which is actually the first festival to have my work online, continues to remember us when so many people tend to forget us,” Rae said.

The ceremony was filmed on Feb. 17 but wasn’t broadcast on BET until Wednesday night.


Denzel Washington, Queen Latifah and Terrence Howard were among the night’s other top honorees, receiving the coveted Hollywood Legacy, Entertainment Icon, and Excellence in the Arts awards, respectively. Director F. Gary Gray also took home an Excellence in the Arts award.

"[The show is] wonderful because it’s not about winning,” Hall told The Times afterward. “It’s just a night that’s really focused on celebrating and honoring. It’s always great to celebrate [artists of color] so everyone is conscious of their value.”

There was a lot of star power in the room, including Cicely Tyson, Pharrell Williams, Common, Morris Chestnut, Trevante Rhodes (“Moonlight”) and Viola Davis, who presented Washington with his award.

“My mother used to say when I was a kid, ‘Boy, the older you get, the older you get. Not any wiser, but older,’ ” the Oscar-winning actor said to a huge laugh from the crowd. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I’m truly honored to be honored.”

Other big winners of the night included the 1997 film “Love Jones,” which was celebrated for being the ultimate black love classic, and the cast of “Queen Sugar,” which took home the award for television show of the year.

“We would be remiss if we didn’t thank [ABFF founder] Jeff Friday and ABFF for not only creating an award that is commensurate with the artistry that it celebrates, but for creating an award show that in two short years has become our Golden Globes,” said Dondré Whitfield, who plays Remy Newell on the show.

Afterward, the cast celebrated raucously backstage, taking group selfies and bursting into the “sugar dance.”

At the end of the night, singers Maxwell and Dionne Farris performed “Sumthin’ Sumthin’ Love Jones Remix” and “Hopeless,” during the “Love Jones” tribute, two stand-out songs from the film’s soundtrack.


But they weren’t the only ones to break out in song. Cast members from BET’s New Edition biopic performed Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Poison,” and original New Edition cast member Ralph Tresvant sang his solo hit “Do What I Gotta Do” for Hall (which she later told The Times was her favorite part of the night).

“Being serenaded by Ralph for me was a nice childhood dream,” Hall said.

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