2023 AAFCA Awards Gave Black Filmmakers a Moment to Feel Heard

Winners Angela Bassett, Viola Davis, Danielle Deadwyler, and more talked about finding the humanity in roles — and finding an audience for Black stories.
Ryan Coogler, Angela Bassett
Ryan Coogler and Angela Bassett at the 14th Annual AAFCA Awards.
Arnold Turner/Eclipse Content/

Awards season gives the opportunity for many stars to see and be seen, but this year’s African American Critics Association Awards gave its honorees — many of whom were just out of reach of an Oscar nomination — to feel heard and acknowledged.

Taking the stage at the Four Seasons’ Beverly Wilshire hotel to accept the award for Best Supporting Actress, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” star Angela Bassett acknowledged her current Oscar nomination, saying “I’ve been asked often throughout this award season, what these nominations and awards mean to me. A lot of people don’t realize that although I’ve been blessed to work quite a lot, it’s been 29 years since I’ve been a nominee.”

Listening to awards season chatter, many attribute part of Bassett’s losses at the BAFTA Awards and the SAG Awards — after winning Best Supporting Actress at the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards — to the perception that she is already an Oscar winner for her tour de force performance as Tina Turner in “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”

“Thank you God for Rosa Parks and Betty Shabazz and Coretta Scott King,” said the actress, listing more roles that one would expect to have earned her awards nominations based on today’s standards. But despite Best Supporting Actress being an Oscar won by more than a handful of Black actresses through the decades, there are still plenty of Black Hollywood icons that were never recognized.

“Thanks to giants like Rosalind Cash, Ruby Dee, Diahann Carroll, Cicely Tyson. Their resilience gave me hope, and just what I needed to keep going, to keep pushing, no matter the adversity, no matter the uncertainty, and no matter the doubt,” said Bassett, highlighting some of those actresses who broke new ground for Black entertainers, none of whom are Oscar winners. “Even today, as I stand on their broad and bold ancestral shoulders, I thank them for their sacrifice, their willingness to stand up, where they were most likely often told to stand back. Their courage in resisting the limitations of portrayals of Black womanhood, to create a new paradigm going forward in what it meant to be a Black actress in Hollywood.”

Viola Davis, Julius Tennon, Cathy Schulman
Viola Davis, Julius Tennon, Cathy Schulman at the 14th Annual African American Film Critics Awards.Sheri Determan

Viola Davis, accepting Best Picture for “The Woman King,” shared a similar sentiment about hoping her legacy as an actor is to broaden the scope of what Black stories are celebrated. “I understand that every story that’s told with Black people in it, I know we all want to be strong. We all want to create beautiful images. But I think the bravest thing that we can do is show the images that are also not so pretty. Because in showing those images, we are saying that we are a part of the human family,” said the Oscar winner, lightly touching on some of the controversy surrounding the historical epic’s depiction the Atlantic slave trade. “Our job, as always, is to show who we are in our privacy. We have to continue to do that. We have to continue to be messy. I feel like that is my privilege of a lifetime, to be messy, and to be beautifully messy.”

“Till” star Danielle Deadwyler, whose Oscar snub elicited plenty of discourse, used her AAFCA Award acceptance speech for Best Actress to also encourage filmgoer not to give a film a chance just because of challenging subject matter. “It cannot be iterated enough that those forces that seek to exclude our work, the fingerprints of our hand on this place, persist. They are poisonous, old, and tired in their tactics to infect, yet we are [the] antidote,” said Deadwyler. “We watch the dire films at the encouragement of the caring critic and we share them, still.”

Also at the show to accept the special Beacon Award was Will Smith, alongside his “Emancipation” director Antoine Fuqua. Though he steered clear from any explicit references to the year he has had post-Slap, he did talk about Fuqua and the studio Apple TV+ exceeding his expectations. “It was the first time I had heard from a studio, ‘The story is more important than how much it costs to get it done,’” he said, before nailing the punchline. “So then we added some more stuff that we wanted—They make iPhones, they can do it.”

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