Despite the movie being ineligible for this year’s awards, “Black Panther” fever took over the American Black Film Festival Honors on Sunday night.
At the Beverly Hilton Hotel, host Cedric the Entertainer was introduced as “actor, comedian and original king of Wakanda.” But he reintroduced himself shortly after taking the mic.
“I am your host, Chadwick Boseman,” he said, referring to the “Black Panther” star. He took a moment to celebrate the film’s success (including more than $700 million in global grosses) and to poke fun at moviegoers who dressed up in “anything left over from Kwanzaa.”
“It looked like the Nigerian Oscars up in there,” he said to huge laughs from the audience.
Director Ava DuVernay was presented with the industry visionary award, the first of the night. “The Chi” showrunner Lena Waithe, who’d worked with the director on her first narrative film, “I Will Follow,” introduced the award with a story about being a broke production assistant.
“When you show up to an Ava DuVernay set, you’re not saying, ‘Show me the money,’” Waithe said. “You’re saying, ‘Show me inspiration. Show me leadership. Show me what it means to act like royalty is in our DNA.’ And she’s shown us that ever since.”
Waithe beseeched the audience members to support DuVernay’s upcoming “A Wrinkle in Time” next month the same way they supported “Black Panther.”
In her acceptance speech, DuVernay touched on the importance of black film festivals like ABFF and how, despite being overlooked by mainstream media, these festivals have long served as breeding grounds for emerging talent like herself, “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler and “Mudbound” director Dee Rees.
“When Sundance ignores us, when Tribeca ignores us, when South by Southwest ignores us, our black film festivals are there,” she said.
She then gave a special shout out to fellow honoree, actor Omari Hardwick, who she cast in “I Will Follow” but couldn’t afford to pay.
“Literally, Sally Richardson and Omari Hardwick gave me money to pay for craft services because I couldn’t even feed the crew,” she said. “Thank you.” She also revealed that she named the lead character on her OWN drama “Queen Sugar” after Hardwick’s daughter, Nova.
Despite having what some might consider a competing film, DuVernay also rooted for the continued success of “Black Panther.”
“This game of the big blockbuster picture is difficult,” she said. “I salute Ryan Coogler and ‘Black Panther’ and Angela [Bassett] and Ruth Carter and everyone involved with that. I say we continue to lift them up; I want them to make literally a billion dollars.
“And I was telling someone today, ‘You know, “Wrinkle in Time” is coming up soon, but this is the thing. This is like making an album the year that “Thriller” came out,’” she continued. “But you know what else came out the year of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller?’ Prince made ‘1999.’ There’s room for all of us.”
“Goodnight everybody, that was our show,” Cedric said after DuVernay’s rousing remarks. He then jokingly told the other honorees that they’d get less time onstage because of her nine-minute long speech.
Comedian and “Get Out” star Lil Rel Howery presented the outstanding comedic television series award, which was a tie between ABC’s “black-ish” and HBO’s “Insecure.” Tracee Ellis Ross and Deon Cole accepted the award on behalf of “black-ish.”
“We as black women are always the leads in our lives,” said Ross. “But it’s really wonderful to be in that position on television and to bring the joy of a black woman and not just the surviving of a black woman to the screen. And to see that we can be all without that being what’s interesting. It’s not interesting that I’m a wife or that I’m a mother or that I’m a doctor; it’s that I am all of those things.”
Armie Hammer presented the distinguished ABFF alumni award to his “Sorry to Bother You” co-star Hardwick. The “Power” star hadn’t prepared an acceptance speech but had emailed himself a list of people in the room to thank, including “Everyone in ‘Black Panther.’”
The outstanding dramatic television series award went to the cast of “Queen Sugar.” Actress and comedian Regina Hall, who hosted the ABFF show last year, presented the rising star award to her “Girls Trip” co-star Tiffany Haddish.
Snoop Dogg presented the classic TV tribute statue to the cast of “Martin,” which was accepted by stars Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell-Martin, Tichina Arnold and Carl Anthony Payne II.
“I know ya’ll want to know about the hashtag reboot, but for us, the most important thing is the hashtag reconnection,” said Campbell-Martin.
“Speaking of reconnection, the reason that that is so important is that life is so short,” said Payne, a nod to his late co-star Thomas Ford. “Who in here tonight is going tell our stories? Who’s going to tell Trayvon [Martin]'s story?”
“Ava’s going to do it!” shouted Arnold to audience laughter.
Billy Dee Williams, best known for portraying Lando Calrissian in the “Star Wars” franchise, received the Hollywood legacy award. A montage of his prolific film career included a special recorded message from his “Star Wars” co-star Harrison Ford.
“I just wanted to say how much working with you was a pleasure, a revelation,” Ford said. “You’re a pretty package, my man, beautiful. And it was a great pleasure getting to know you, seeing you over the years. I miss seeing you more often. You’re a great man; you deserve this.”
“Thanks,” Williams said while accepting the award. His voice broke as he fought back tears. “I just want to thank you for honoring me with this most meaningful award. Thank you so much.”
“Ya’ll went and made Lando cry,” director Jordan Peele said afterward, while accepting the movie of the year award for his Oscar-nominated blockbuster, “Get Out.” “How you make Lando cry? That just broke my 7-year-old heart. That was messed up.”
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