Jeff and Nicole Friday on American Black Film Festival, returning to in-person events after two virtual years and more

The popular film festival returns to Miami Beach from June 15-19

The American Black Film Festival is back in Miami after two years of virtual events because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and founders Jeff and Nicole Friday broke down that experience and more with theGrio‘s Cortney Wills on the latest episode of the Acting Up podcast.

The couple also talked about what they learned from their virtual events and how their legacy is linked to Hollywood’s strides towards stronger representation.

Lexus Uptown Honors Hollywood
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 23: Nicole Friday and Jeff Friday attend Lexus Uptown Honors Hollywood at Sunset Room Hollywood on March 23, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

“It’s great to be back for the obvious reasons, you know,” Jeff said. “ABFF is a community festival, unlike some of the other big festivals around the world that are kind of centered on what movie is playing and what premieres.  Our festival is centered around breaking people, not really breaking content. So it’s kind of hard to have a festival-rooted community without community, right?” 

Still, there was plenty to takeaway from their two virtual festivals, which revealed just how big ABFF’s global audience is. “We realized that our community globally was bigger than our live community,” Jeff said. “With our virtual events a couple of years ago, we had 74,000 people from around the world attending virtually. At our live event, we have 7 to 10,000 people.” 

Speaking to how they always want to make “good news out of bad,” the founders realized that the virtual events gave them a better sense of their global impact and their brand, which for more than one-quarter century has been celebrating “emerging artists and content made by and about people of African descent.” From industry titans like Issa Rae and Ryan Coogler to lesser-known creatives, the festival has fostered some incredible new talent and continues to do so. 

BET Presents the American Black Film Festival Honors - Show
BEVERLY HILLS, CA – FEBRUARY 17: Founder of the ABFF Jeff Friday speaks onstage during BET Presents the American Black Film Festival Honors on February 17, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

In addressing their legacy, the couple reflected on how ABFF has grown from being “the little festival that could,” to one of the biggest events of the year for Black film over the world. “I always say that it took us, you know, this is our 26th year,” Nicole said. “It took us, maybe 24 years to for people really know, you know, who and what ABFF was all about. But, it’s been a great ride.” 

“We are a community festival,” she added. “We are a people festival. There’s a number of people that have come through the festival that are some of today’s hottest artists and most successful creators. And so I’d say that is probably something that makes me most proud.”

The shifts in Hollywood towards stronger Black representation, with films like Black Panther and movements like #OscarsSoWhite specifically, had a big impact on festivals like ABFF. These movements, Jeff and Nicole explained, are intricately linked to the success of their festival. “Black Panther happened in 2017, and you already know Ryan’s roots with us,” Jeff said. “It’s ironic that a filmmaker who had his first short at our festival … his success fueled by Black people really did fuel our future.” 

The #OscarsSoWhite moment, Jeff added, forced the industry to look inward and “turn a mirror at themselves,” and helped get the festival and the industry to where it is today in terms of representation. “It took us 20 years to become an overnight sensation,” he said.

For ABFF tickets and more, visit the official web site here.

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