Sterling K. Brown, Danielle Brooks, Ava DuVernay, Colman Domingo and more honored at the AAFCA Awards ceremony

"American Fiction," "The Color Purple" and "Origin" were highly praised for their outstanding depictions and achievements in the film industry.

The African American Film Critics Association held its 15th annual awards ceremony at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California on Wednesday. Hollywood powerhouses assembled for a night of celebrating outstanding film achievements and recognizing the organization’s top 10 movie selections from 2023.

Ava DuVernay, Niecy Nash,
Ava DuVernay accepts the Best Drama Award for “Origin” onstage during the 15th Annual AAFCA Awards at Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel on Feb. 21, 2024, in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

“American Fiction,” “The Color Purple” and “Origin” were among the collection of films that led in several categories.

Oscar nominee Sterling K. Brown kicked off the joyous occasion as the first winner of the evening for Best Supporting Actor for his role in “American Fiction.” Illuminating with pride, actress Ryan Michelle Bathe held back tears as she presented her husband and former “This Is Us” star with the award.

“I want to thank God for allowing me to live long enough to recognize the beauty in all humanity,” Brown said. “As a cis-gender heterosexual male from St. Louis, Missouri, I cannot honestly tell you that that has always been the case. In my youth, I was infinitely more concerned with what differentiates us rather than what makes us the same.”

Brown made a note to recognize and express his gratitude to the LGBTQIA+ community, in which his character was a part of. He played the captivating Clifford Ellison, a cosmetic surgeon who embarks on his sexuality journey as a new openly gay man.

“The age-old doctrine of loving the sinner and hating the sin felt like the most conditional kind of love one can practice…that is not my ministry. My ministry is to love without limits,” he continued. 

Cord Jefferson, director of “American Fiction,” and the film’s leading man, Jeffrey Wright, earned vast praise and won across multiple categories. “American Fiction” is Jefferson’s debut film and has landed him five Oscar nominations.

Later that night, Wright was also recognized for the longevity of his prolific acting career with the Acting Legend Award, a special honor that highlighted his work in “Basquiat,” “Shaft,” “Westworld” and other projects since his early beginnings in the ’90s.

Playwright and director George C. Wolfe was also honored with the Legacy Award alongside Misty Copeland with the Innovator Award for their career achievements.  

“The Color Purple” took home four accolades for Best Musical, Best Ensemble and Best Music alongside Academy Award nominee Danielle Brooks, sharing her triumphant victory for Best Supporting Actress with Da’Vine Joy Randolph, in which both performers were tied for the same category. 

Danielle Brooks,
Danielle Brooks, winner of the Best Supporting Actress Award for “The Color Purple” attends the 15th Annual AAFCA Awards at Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel on Feb. 21, 2024, in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)

Brooks’ castmate, Phylicia Pearl Mpasi, who played young Celie in the film’s latest iteration, introduced the actress, who twirled in excitement as she approached the stage and was met with an eruption of cheers from the crowded audience.

“I want to dedicate this beautiful award gifted to me by my Black folk,” Brooks said during her tearful speech. “It feels so great to be seen.”

She basked in her recognition and the significance of being able to share the category with her longtime friend Randolph, who was honored moments before for her part in the dramedy “The Holdovers.”

“People don’t know this, but we met in the beginning of our careers when she [Randolph] was at Yale, and I was at Juilliard,” Brooks continued. “To get to share this moment with her, it means something. At the time, it felt like there could only be one of us and that is not true. We’re breaking that.”

When Randolph accepted her award, the actress deviated at one point to share a candid moment, where she explained her intentionality behind honoring Black culture in her various roles by using subliminal references that she knew Black viewers would recognize.

“Mary Lamb was a character that felt new and exciting, but also familiar in a very beautiful way,” Randolph said. “…I want to create roles in which we see things that people can feel attached to. The bun that she [Mary Lamb] wears as her work look is directly derivative from ‘Weezy’ in the first episodes of “The Jeffersons.””

The style of Roxie Roker from “The Jeffersons,” hairstyle ideas from songstress Phyllis Hyman and glasses from Randolph’s grandmother were other sources of inspiration she said she drew from to incorporate into her character. 

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Throughout the night, Ava DuVernay returned to the lectern on various occasions to accept the immense recognition she received for “Origin.”

Despite the film being overlooked during awards season, DuVernay told theGrio earlier on the red carpet that the real reward is hearing how “Origin” has impacted audiences.

“I’m not powered by the recognition,” DuVernay said. “I’m powered by people seeing the film. Some years, you win the awards, and some years, you don’t… The real thing that is the prize for me is when someone tells me ‘I saw the film and it really moved me.’ That’s the best trophy.”

There was no shortage of Black excellence that filled the room. Colman Domingo, Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, David Oyewolo, Lily Gladstone, A.V. Rockwell, Mara Brock Akil and more were also awarded for their impactful contributions on-camera and behind the scenes in the film industry.

Hosted by comedian and actor Roy Wood Jr., other special appearances included Debbie Allen, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Niecy Nash, Boris Kodjoe and more.

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