Ava DuVernay and Jordan Peele receive top honors at 9th Annual AAFCA Awards founded by Gil Robertson. (Photo by Arnold Turner/AT Archives)

Recently, the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) held its 9th Annual awards ceremony at the Taglyan Complex Theatre in Hollywood to honor the best in Black cinema, television and new media. Founded by Gil Robertson, AAFCA is unique in that it both honors and provides opportunity for Black filmmakers and creatives.

This extraordinary night of Black excellence began with an elegant cocktail hour followed by red carpet interviews and a full course spread during the award ceremony. Special guests included Mike Epps, Laz Alonso, Sherri Shepherd, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Keegan Michael-Key, Tristan Mack Wilds, the cast of “Queen Sugar” and more. Ava DuVernay, Rob Reiner, Jordan Peele and Frances McDormand were among distinguished honorees.

AAFCA Founder Gil Robertson says the yearly gala is simply a celebration of excellence. (Photo by Sheri Determan)

As a woman of many firsts, namely the first Black female to win Best Director at Sundance and the first Black female to score an Oscar nod, it’s a no brainer that Ava DuVernay would receive AAFCA’s Innovation Award. DuVernay, who has amassed large amounts of success as a major player behind the scenes, says she is grateful for AAFCA’s support and most thankful for the viewers who meet her at the place of creativity to watch her films.

“I was a publicist before I was a filmmaker and AAFCA used to be my client. AAFCA continued to support me when I made my very first film for $50,000,” DuVernay said. “This is an innovation award and it’s incumbent upon us to get outside of our boxes. Jordan has done that, Ryan Coogler’s doing that, Dee Rees is doing that, so many of us in this moment,” DuVernay declared.

As Director of the upcoming film “A Wrinkle in Time,” starring Oprah Winfrey, DuVernay says that it’s critical Black filmmakers and content creators continue to stand together to push our narratives forward. “It only works if there’s an audience to meet us where we are, so I just want to thank you all for always supporting my stuff, for showing up,” she added.

Jordan Peele received AAFCA’s Horizon Award, and said it was quite the honor to have it placed in his hands by his “partner in crime” Keegan Michael-Key. Peele said the sketches that he and Keegan developed were designed to spark conversation and as a by-product helped guide the thought process for “Get Out.”

(l-r) Queen Sugar Royals Dawn-Lyen Gardner, Dondré T. Whitfield, Omar Dorsey, Ava Duvernay and Kofi Siriboe at 9th Annual AAFCA Awards (Photo by Sheri Determan)

“We had this idea that if we could identify the sketch we had never seen, we could identify the thing that was missing from our culture, that we could fill that void, and that whatever happens, people would be talking. It would give people a context and ability to talk about the issues in a new way,” Peele said.

Peele also said that he designed “Get Out” as a horror film, because it’s a genre that allows viewers to face their fears. “As Black people, we are subjected to horrors everyday, so despite the fact that we did not see the representation of our ideas, of our faces, of our point of views on screen, we are a loyal horror film audience, so I wanted to fill that gap,” Peele said. ‘”And the best part of watching “Get Out” is hearing Black people in the theatre,” Peele said jokingly.

As the night continued, the Sentinel also spoke with one of AAFCA’s event sponsors from OneUnited Bank, Teri Williams. As the President and COO of OneUnited Bank, we asked Williams about her thoughts on the “Black Panther” film and how Black communities can work more cohesively to build economic and generational wealth.

‘Detroit’ actor Laz Alonso makes an appearance at 9th Annual AAFCA Awards. (Photo by Sheri Determan)

“My belief is that there’s going to be a before “Black Panther” and after “Black Panther,” and after Black Panther, we and our children are really going to see [ourselves] as heroes, heroes in our own lives, heroes in our culture, heroes in our Country, heroes in this world,” Williams declared.


“It’s going to be a change in our way of thinking. The whole bank Black, buy Black movement is really going to explode, partially as a function of “Black Panther.” “Why we’re here today is that film and images are so important and that’s another powerful image that we’ll have of ourselves,” she continued.

Sheryl Lee Ralph, the actress best known for her work on the hit-TV series “Moesha”, also touched on the film and how critical it is to support our own causes, saying it’s wonderful to show the world how much we “celebrate the cradle of humanity, the continent of Africa.” “There’s nothing wrong with having an organization that shines the light on what is being done in front of the camera and behind the camera, with people, by people, for people of color,” Ralph added.

Gil Robertson, the brainchild behind AAFCA, says the night is “really about celebrating excellence.” “We’re just happy that tonight we are able to celebrate that excellence through the work of Ava DuVernay, Rob Reiner and Jordan Peele among others,” Robertson said. For exclusive interviews from the night, please visit www.lasentinel.net.