AAFCA founder Gil Robertson on Hollywood’s changing landscape and challenges

The largest group of professional black film critics will be celebrating the best of the year in film, television and new media at its ninth annual awards ceremony.

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The African American Film Critics Association is gearing up for its ninth annual AAFCA Awards ceremony this week, celebrating the best of the year in film, television and new media.

On Wednesday, the world’s largest group of professional Black film critics will honor some of Black Hollywood’s brightest stars including Jordan Peele, Daniel Kaluuya, Laurence Fishburne, Tiffany Haddish, and Lakeith Stanield.

TheGrio caught up with AAFCA co-founder and president, Gil Robertson, to discuss his reasons for launching the organization and to get his take on 2017’s year’s biggest contenders.

Jordan Peele’s seismic thriller, Get Out, earned the most wins from AAFCA members, nabbing Best Film, Best Directing, Best Acting and Best Screenplay.

“Clearly, Get Out was deserving of the notice because how often do you see a film maintain a significant presence in the market place for twelve solid months?” Robertson asks. “It’s practically unheard of. The fact that the movie resonated so well with filmgoers and also inspired so many thoughtful conversations about race in this country and identity in this country is a good thing. The film made a massive amount of money for what they invested in it and we are looking forward to celebrating it.”

Addressing Real Issues

While Get Out was also nominated for several Oscars this year, there was a time when a movie made by black people, about black people, would have been hard-pressed to garner the kind of attention Peele’s masterpiece has. In 2003, Robertson and his colleagues launched AAFCA to help black entertainment journalists and black content creators get a leg up in the industry.

“It started out as a way for black A&E journalists to act as a unit and wanting to carve out for ourselves, the type of access we needed to do our jobs. I recognized that young people in the game would need some help because navigating the studios and networks can be rather difficult,” he explains.

“On the flip side, we noticed that media opportunities that were being set up by the studios and networks—black artists weren’t always extended the same support. These media opportunities are critical on both sides of the coin. For the talent, they need to create a profile for themselves to help them get more work and ask for more money. On the media side, it’s the same really. We collect content and create stories so we can further our careers.”

Affecting Real Change

According to Robertson, some areas have improved significantly while others still need much more work.

“Certainly things have gotten better. Compared to when we started in 2003, it’s a totally different world today. You have Shondaland and Will Packer and Mara Brock Akil and Ava DuVernay’s success to point to, as well as people like Jordan Peele, those are people and things we certainly weren’t seeing back then,” he says.

“There is also just greater visibility of African American journalists who have chosen to cover entertainment. I would like to think that we’re making a difference. We have been an asset and a resource that young people value. We do bootcamps throughout the year at Clark Atlanta and at Howard University and at other campuses across the country.”

Ongoing Issues

Despite the headway that has been made by both black journalists and creators, there are still major disparities in the industry, as evidenced by Taraji P. Henson’s recent box office flop, Proud Mary.

READ MORE: Sony accused of sabotage after Taraji’s ‘Proud Mary’ stumbles at Box Office

Henson was vocal about her disappointment in Sony Pictures’ lackluster efforts to promote the film and Robertson agrees that Black films need more support.

“At studios, it’s a constant fight. They didn’t do anything with that movie and to a great degree, we’re still fighting some of the same fights. At times it seems like it’s getting better and then you turn around and feel like you’re right back at square one,” says Robertson.

“It’s more important than ever that we come together because clearly when you see, not only what’s going on in Hollywood but what is happening on a national level, it’s time that journalists of color really start to reflect how images and messages about us are being disseminated to the public. TV and film are powerful mediums so it’s essential that we are in the room and that we’re telling those stories. These stories now are going around the world.”

Check out the complete list of 2017 AAFCA Awards winners:

BEST PICTURE: GET OUT (Universal Pictures)
BEST DIRECTOR: JORDAN PEELE – GET OUT (Universal Pictures)
BEST ACTOR: DANIEL KALUUYA – GET OUT (Universal Pictures)
BEST ACTRESS: FRANCES McDORMAND – THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI (Fox Searchlight)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: LAURENCE FISHBURNE – LAST FLAG FLYING (Amazon Studios/Lionsgate)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: TIFFANY HADDISH – GIRLS TRIP (Universal Pictures)
BEST COMEDY: GIRLS TRIP (Universal Pictures)
BEST ENSEMBLE: DETROIT (Annapurna Pictures)
BEST INDEPENDENT: CROWN HEIGHTS (Amazon Studios/IFC Films)
BEST ANIMATED: COCO (Disney/Pixar)
BEST DOCUMENTARY: STEP (Fox Searchlight)
BEST FOREIGN: THE WOUND (Kino Lorber)
BEST SCREENPLAY: GET OUT (Universal Pictures)
BEST SONG: “IT AINT FAIR” — DETROIT – THE ROOTS featuring BILAL (Motown Records)
BEST NEW MEDIA: MUDBOUND (Netflix)
BEST TV SERIES (COMEDY): BLACKISH (ABC)
BEST TV SERIES (DRAMA): QUEEN SUGAR (OWN)
BREAKOUT: LAKEITH STANFIELD – CROWN HEIGHTS (Amazon Studios/IFC Films)

AAFCA TOP 10 FILMS
1. GET OUT (Universal Pictures)
2. THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI (Fox Searchlight)
3. COCO (Disney/Pixar)
4. GIRLS TRIP (Universal Pictures)
5. DETROIT (Annapurna Pictures)
6. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (Sony Pictures Classics)
7. THE SHAPE OF WATER (Fox Searchlight)
8. GOOK (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
9. CROWN HEIGHTS (Amazon Studios/IFC Films)
10. MARSHALL (Open Road Films)

AAFCA TOP 10 TV

1. QUEEN SUGAR: Season 2 (OWN)
2. UNDERGROUND: Season 2 (WGN)
3. INSECURE: Season 2 (HBO)
4. MASTER OF NONE: Season 2 (Netflix)
5. BLACK-ISH: Season 4 (ABC)
6. THE HANDMAID’S TALE: Season 1 (Hulu)
7. DEAR WHITE PEOPLE: Season 1 (Netflix)
8. SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT: Season 1 (Netflix)
9. THE DEFIANT ONES (HBO)
10. TIE: GUERILLA/SNOWFALL: Season 1 (Showtime/FX)