The African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) has selected Mariah Carey, George C. Wolfe, Stacey Abrams’s “All In” and Netflix as its special achievement award honorees for the 12th annual AAFCA Awards.
Carey will receive the Innovator Award, while Wolfe earns the Salute to Excellence. Netflix is the Cinema Vanguard recipient, while the Stanley Kramer Award for Social Justice goes to “All In: The Fight for Democracy” with Stacey Abrams and filmmakers Lisa Cortés and Liz Garbus.
Describing this year’s batch of special honorees as “resilient, dedicated, purposeful in their crafts, in their intentions and their meaning” AAFCA CEO and President Gil Robertson tells Variety, “When you think about all four of these projects and individuals, they’re being very intentional in wanting to utilize their talents for good, for information and with the intention to uplift and empower.”
The AAFCA special achievement honors are presented to salute excellence over a body of work, in addition to recognizing noteworthy contributions in any given year, putting the honor akin to the Academy’s Governors Award.
Carey’s Innovator Awards recognition is one such example. Though the multitalented superstar had a big year with the release of her memoir “The Meaning of Mariah Carey” and her “Magical Christmas Special” on Apple TV Plus, Robertson says it was the songstress’ mix of positivity and longevity that led to the the special recognition.
“Given a career of her magnitude, we really could have done it anytime. At this point, she’s more than earned the right to be recognized at some point,” he explains. “When members spoke about the impact of her videos and how much they meant to them, we thought ‘Let’s recognize her because she’s always projected a lot of positive energy, which we definitely need now during the pandemic and coming out of the last four years.’”
“She’s also presented opportunities behind the camera for a lot of Black technicians and creatives; it’s all about being able to open the door for others and she’s certainly done that and provided job opportunities to Black crews and other Black creators,” he says.
On honoring Wolfe, director of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and a multiple Tony Award winner, Robertson adds: “For many actors, their pathway to success begins in the theater, and Mr. Wolfe has certainly been a part of the development process for a lot of big names that we know today in the TV and film space. He’s such a brilliant man and director — from ‘Lackawanna Blues’ to ‘Angels in America’ to what he did with ‘Ma Rainey’ — telling stories that reflect in it to a great degree our history in this country as Black people.”
“Flipping Georgia was nothing short of a miracle, truly. Stacey Abrams, while she’s just one of the subjects, certainly she’s the primary voice throughout the doc — and just a Wonder Woman,” Robertson says, praising the politician-turned-producer. “Especially now, given the challenges from the Capitol Hill incident to the last four years of the Trump administration, to recognize how democracy really should work is something that I think is critical and essential. Filmmakers Lisa Cortés and Liz Garbus [and Abrams] just did a spectacular job in creating a story that should be a must-watch for every American,” Robertson added.
Robertson says he personally threw Netflix into the running for consideration, arguing that the brand has become synonymous with the idea of streaming: “They are literally the Coke of colas; you’re got RC, you’ve got Pepsi, but most people say ‘Give me a Coke.’ They call the whole thing by their brand.”
“At the start of the pandemic, it was kind of dark. We didn’t have any information; we didn’t know what we were dealing with. But the one thing we did have for just for entertainment was Netflix,” he explains. “That little N would come up and you’d take a break from the stress of trying to figure out what was going on with the world.”
“Netflix was a consistent source of quality and diverse entertainment, that really does reflect the world that we live in,” he continues. “What they’re doing with Black creators, Asian creators, East Indian creators, the Hispanic and Latinx markets — in every way, they represent us with stories that they provide a platform for.”
Previous special honorees include Channing Dungey, Carl Reiner, Quincy Jones, Jason Blum, Edward James Olmos, George Lucas, Sidney Poitier, Jon Chu and the late Cicely Tyson, who was awarded in 2013.
“She was just a goddess; I mean you were just blown away,” Robertson says of honoring Tyson with that early special achievement honor. “She was a little woman, but little women have a lot of power; she could just carry the whole room, just commanded it.”
He adds: “Everything that [Tyson] embodied and that she represented for women in general, but for Black women in particular, she will certainly be missed.”
Robertson says that AAFCA also has plans to recognize the late Chadwick Boseman, who passed away last August, among those the entertainment industry has lost in the past year. The actor is also eligible to be posthumously nominated for his work in “Da 5 Bloods” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”
“We recognized Chadwick for playing James Brown in ‘Get on Up’ many years ago, and he attended the show,” Robertson recalls. “It was always good energy whenever I encountered Chadwick — just a smile, a hug and good vibes.”
The 12th annual AAFCA award nominations will be revealed on March 8, ahead of the April 7 awards ceremony.
“This will be our second time after the TV honors in August, and that was very successful,” Robertson says of producing the awards show virtually. “We feel pretty confident that we’ll be able to deliver a quality event that people will enjoy and we’re going to add a few more bells and whistles than we did last time.”
In addition to the special awards, AAFCA is in the midst of its Black History Month programming, including a partnership with American Cinematheque titled “Black Identity Through Cinema,” as well as the “Breaking Barriers in Comedy: A Celebration of Black Television” with the Television Academy.