The Critics Choice Association’s third annual Celebration of Black Cinema was a virtual event on Tuesday evening, held to recognize Black films and filmmakers.
While “2020 was not the greatest year for so many reasons, there was a lot to celebrate in the world of Black film in 2020,” the award show’s host, TV personality Bevy Smith, said as she kicked off the ceremony. “It was a record-breaking year in terms of the total number of movies released about the Black experience. And there were more films directed by Black women than ever before.”
Actress Regina King, for one, made her directorial debut with “One Night in Miami.” The Ensemble Award went to her cast: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge and Leslie Odom, Jr. — who took on the roles of iconic figures Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke. The actors spoke of the brotherhood and camaraderie they felt on the set of the film and thanked King for her guidance.
Tessa Thompson was given the top acting prize of the night, sharing a powerful speech as she accepted the Actor Award for her work in “Sylvie’s Love,” the romantic drama directed by Eugene Ashe.
“This is a time when once again we are talking in this nation and globally about the value and dignity of Black life, and I believe the stories that we tell about Black life in this moment are even more resonant,” she said. “I believe that by not allowing Black characters to fall in love, to dance, to have access to moments of joy inside of pain and struggle…has been Hollywood’s way, of diminishing our humanity.”
Actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who played American activist and author Bobby Seale in Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” was awarded the Breakthrough Award (presented by Sorkin), while Zendaya and John David Washington, who star together in Sam Levinson’s black-and-white film “Malcolm & Marie,” were given the NextGen Award.
“This has been such a special opportunity I think to, as a young Black woman, be able to create something and believe in myself — that means financially, that means creatively — and I’m so lucky that I got to do it beside such an incredible actor and scene partner but also my fellow producer, John David Washington,” Zendaya said.
Shaka King was given the Director Award for his biographical drama on the Black Panther Party, “Judas and the Black Messiah,” and took the opportunity to acknowledge the “over 15 Black Panthers, now elders, who remain unjustly imprisoned or in exile.” Concluding, he added: “Free them all now.”
Introducing King, “Judas and the Black Messiah” actor Daniel Kaluuya had touched on the social justice movement of 2020 and importance of Black storytelling.
“We’ve heard the rally and cry for justice and equality from more voices than ever before, both in the U.S. and around the world,” said Kaluuya, appearing on screen with costar Dominique Fishback. “As artists, it’s so nice to keep our voices raised, to tell our stories, Black stories, and to show that these stories are vital. In fact, I would say that today telling them is more vital than ever.”
“Our history is incredibly important,” added Fishback. “During this time of civil unrest and social change, we can and must acknowledge those that came before us and made a difference and paved the way.”
The award show did just that by presenting Tommie Smith with the Social Justice Award. The 1968 photograph that captures the former athlete giving the Black Power salute atop of an Olympic podium has been a powerful real-life symbol in history and of the Black Power movement.
Other significant awards went to singer and actress Andra Day, who received the Special Honoree Award for her portrayal of Billie Holiday in “The United States Vs. Billie Holiday,” as well as musician John Legend and producing partner Mike Jackson, who accepted the Producers Award. And in a touching moment, the late Chadwick Boseman was honored with a posthumous Performance of the Year Award.
The ceremony, an entirely virtual and online production with pre-recorded segments, also featured appearances by Kemp Powers, Lee Daniels, George C. Wolfe, Taraji P. Henson, LaKeith Stanfield, Jesse Williams, Nnamdi Asomugha, Michael Ealy and Jonathan Majors. But the night belonged to actor Delroy Lindo, who was given the Career Achievement Award.
What was his initial reaction to receiving the honor?
“I had many reactions,” he said to WWD in a digital press conference on Thursday. “Of course, there’s the positive response of being recognized in this particular way. I also had a response having to do with on some level the fact that Black cinema is being recognized as it is, makes the award — and I am being recognized in that context — makes the award a little more special.”
The 68-year-old English-American actor, who’s had a long and prominent career, has appeared on film, television and in theater. Most recently, he was in Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods” where he plays a Vietnam War veteran. He’s worked with Lee several times, including in 1992’s “Malcolm X.”
“I firmly hope that what we have seen serves as a point of departure for yet more film and more filmmakers of color to continue working,” Lindo later continued. “And at the same time, I have to tip my hat once again to Spike from the standpoint that he has been such a trailblazer. He has been such a pioneer. And so, for me, coupled with my appreciation of the manifestation of these various films and filmmakers, Black filmmakers and Black film, I’m also tipping my hat to Spike because on some level he ‘started it.’ And you know what I mean by that, that much of what has transpired has transpired as a result of the trail that he blazed.”