AAFCA: Gil Robertson Talks Black Films and Awards

AAFCA co-founder Gil Robertson.  Photo: Gil Robertson

AAFCA co-founder Gil Robertson.
Photo: Gil Robertson

Awards season brings the hopes and dreams of filmmakers, actors and others in the entertainment industry to the foreground, with acknowledgement of their efforts. This year’s Oscar snub of Selma director Ava DuVernay and lead actor David Oyelowo, for whatever reason, demonstrates how films, filmmakers and actors of color are often overlooked by large, mainstream awarding bodies.

Tired of this treatment for actors of color by mainstream award making bodies, in 2003 journalist Gil Robertson and colleague Shawn Edwards founded the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA). He and other colleagues discussed the many issues and slights that occur within the film industry, so they crafted a vehicle to support black filmmakers and film journalists through yearly programming, emphasizing films that share the black experience.

“We wanted to address the need we thought was missing in the industry, primarily the lack of support for black journalists covering cinema and entertainment.” says Robertson. “We also thought that we could meld together resources to help people grow and maintain their careers, and also advocate for them in the studio system.”

Robertson recalls that AAFCA’s early years were about building infrastructure and securing key industry partners. Then in 2009, they received support that assisted in launching the annual live awards ceremony, which Robertson produces. February 4 will mark the sixth year of the event, which draws A-list celebrity hosts and presenters, and has recognized Viola Davis, Forrest Whitaker, Nate Parker and countless others including DuVernay.

In his 20-plus years covering the entertainment industry, Robertson contends that he has never seen an event like it. He notes that it attracts a ‘perfect blend’ of celebrities and industry executives, and that it’s salient because blacks are shut out of many similar events.

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“If you’re black and you work and live in Hollywood, you don’t get invited out to the Oscars, the Golden Globes. You don’t get invited out to a lot of the black-tie events that there’s much fanfare over,” Robertson says.

In fact, he says that the AAFCA Awards becoming a staple in the black film and entertainment community is his proudest accomplishment.

“A guy can go home and tell his girl, ‘hey we’re going out to the AAFCAs’, and for that night at least, they’re part of the scene, they are the scene in fact. They can walk in and not feel the potential alienation that they might feel at a different kind of event.”

The 2015 AAFCA Awards boasts an impressive list of honorees encompassing the African Diaspora, including David Oyelowo and Ava DuVernay, who were passed over by the Oscars for Best Actor and Best Director respectively for Selma. Other honorees are Gugu Mbatha-Raw for Best Actress in Belle, John Legend and Common for Best Music (“Glory” on the Selma soundtrack) and the Best Independent Film award goes to Dear White People.

Robertson has lofty plans for AAFCA, which include televising the awards event and expanding their internship program, which currently works with select juniors and seniors at Clark Atlanta University, Howard University and Northwestern University. They’ve also debuted a screening series featuring films of interest to the community.

In terms of his industry outlook , Robertson is optimistic about the entrepreneurial spirit of blacks making, marketing and distributing their own films instead of waiting for outside forces to do the job for them .

“If we wait for other people to provide a platform for your worldview, what you see as beautiful, what you see as important and valid, our experience tells us it might not get done. I think what I find most promising is that Black folks are doing it for themselves – unapologetically.”

*The 2015 AAFCA award winners ceremony will be held tonight (Feb. 4) at the Taglyan Complex in Los Angeles, CA.

This post was written by Dr. Chetachi A. Egwu, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Nova Southeastern University. Her scholarship focuses on Black Internet Usage and the African image in film, with an emphasis on documentary. The Howard University alumna is the owner of Conscious Thought Media. Follow her on Twitter @Tachiada.

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