There is no other time in Black history that Black filmmakers have enjoyed so much access and success. Whether you credit the #OscarsSoWhite campaign and the Academy under Black president Sheryl Boone Isaacs making changes in the voting membership, or look to Tyler Perry’s ginormous new studio complex, Ava Duvernay’s ARRAY distribution company and film complex, or to the multiple deals Netflix has made with Black filmmakers, you can’t deny things are looking up.
But there’s someone behind the scenes who has helped make a difference as well. Longtime journalist and publicist Gil Robertson is the co-founder of the African American Film Critics Association and over the last 16 years, the 60-plus member organization has advocated for Black films and filmmakers. He’s been one of the people who has helped keep Black content creators at the forefront with both educational programming and by screening and supporting films that weren’t getting the exposure they deserved.
Now, there’s an annual awards event, the African American Film Critics Association Awards in Los Angeles and several partnerships, including one with Turner Classic Movies. They too, have embraced diversity by hiring Jacqueline Stewart, their first Black host in 25 years. AAFCA Presents: Motown Productions on October 22 at 8 p.m. with AAFCA member Christopher Witherspoon in discussion with host Alicia Malone on Motown’s big films: “Lady Sings The Blues,” “Mahogany” and “The Last Dragon.” The Motown movie special is part of an ongoing partnership with Turner Classic Films that started last year.
“We’re providing a platform in promoting cinema that represents the Black community and Black imagery in its totality – the good, the bad, everything,” Robertson says. “We want we want people to understand that cinema has a great influence on Black people and their lives – how we see ourselves and how others see us.”
AAFCA had a presence at this year’s Toronto Film Festival as well, hosting a luncheon with cast members from “Dolemite.” Spotted in the room along with cast members Mike Epps, Craig Robinson and Titus Burgess were actors Omar Dorsey from “Queen Sugar,” actor/director Vondie Curtis-Hall from “Harriet” and actor Sarunus Jackson from “Insecure.”
l-r: Craig Robinson, Titus Burgess, AAFCA’s Gil Robertson, Mike Epps, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Cameron Bailey, executive director of Toronto International Film Festival and AAFCA co-founder Shawn Edwards.
Robertson continue his advocacy with a Shorts program, which solicited Black filmmakers who had completed short films, often the precursor to getting a shot at directing a feature. Those films will air on the Revolt network later this year. As more Hollywood players seek diversity, AAFCA’s awards night has become an integral part of Hollywood’s official award season, even becoming a predictor of Oscar winners. Robertson hopes that all of this opportunity allows filmmakers to tell an even wider variety of stories about Black lives.
“It very important that we as creative people begin to make movies that provide the most complete example as possible,” Robertson says. “Right now, we’re eating only one piece of cake and ignoring the other nine slices. We need to show other sides of who we are aside from crime, slavery and violence.”
PHOTOS: Courtesy of AAFCA