Highlights From The 3rd Annual Celebration of Black Cinema

UNSPECIFIED LOCATION – FEBURARY 2: In this screengrab, a title card is seen at the Critics Choice Association's Third Annual Celebration of Black Cinema on February 02, 2021. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images for the Critics Choice Association)

On Tuesday, February 2nd The Critics Choice Association hosted the 3rd Annual Celebration of Black Cinema, via a virtual ceremony, to honor 10 visionary films and 15 actors, producers, and directors of the season.

The Critics Choice Association presented the 3rd Annual Celebration of Black Cinema award ceremony for black directors, actors, and producers who are dedicated to telling Black Stories on film. The goal of the ceremony was to recognize those individuals who have worked to create diversity and inclusion in black films. These films shed light on underrepresented communities, but also the actors who have climbed the ladder of success to achieve their careers in filmmaking. For this year’s Celebration of Black Cinema award ceremony, Stagedge, a video production company partnered with the Critics Choice association to create a virtual experience for viewers. To showcase this experience, LIVECGI built a virtual studio to showcase each honoree in an extraordinary way. 

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Cinema Awards had to find new ways to bring the ceremony to all the honorees in a way that, not only, paid tribute to their success, but also paid homage to their ability to persevere in the filmmaking industry during times of uncertainties.  The first award of the night was presented by producer and director, Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin honored Emmy Award-winning actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen II with the Breakthrough Award.

Abdul- Mateen is best known for the historical legal drama on Netflix The Trial of the Chicago 7 and for his role as Cal Abar in the HBO miniseries Watchmen . As Abdul-Mateen continues to make his appearance on the “big screen” viewers can look forward to seeing him in Jordan Peele’s upcoming remake of Candyman and The Matrix 4, directed and produced by Lana Wachowski. 

When receiving this award, Abdul-Mateen showed gratitude to Sorkin for writing an amazing script and thanking him for the opportunity to go on this journey . Abdul – Mateen spoke about how The Trial of the Chicago 7 related to Americans in today’s society. The film highlights police brutality and racial injustices during a United States election. He said, “ What are we willing to stand up for and where will we be? Hopefully, we find ourselves on the right side.” In closing, Abdul-Mateen left the viewers with a for justice, freedom and a decision to join the right side of humanity. 

Continuing with the award ceremony, the Black Cinema Awards honored singer and songwriter Andra Day with the Special Honoree Award. Lee Daniels, the director of The United States vs. Billie Holiday presented her with the award. Daniels said “It is as if the spirit of Billie Holiday is living through Andra Day.” Daniel further explains his passion in telling stories that he is able to develop, direct, write, and supervise.  He said “I just had to tell the story.” In particular, Daniel emphasized how it was his responsibility to highlight the work of Billie holiday during the time of the Civil Rights movement in the 1930s and 40s. 

Day continuously thanked Lee Daniels for bringing out the gift inside of her. Day said “I’m not sure If  I’m an actress. But, I’m appreciative for your dedication to authenticity and storytelling.”  As Day further expressed her gratitude,  she shared her process of getting into character, which required a lot of research and a supportive team to help prepare.

The next honorees of the night were Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, and Leslie Odom, Jr. Ben-adir, Goree, Hodge, and Odom are best known for starring in the film One Night in Miami. Kemp Powers, award-winning playwright, screenwriter and director presented the awardees with the Ensemble Award. Powers says how thrilled he was to work with an iconic cast that brought his vision to life. 

Hodge, who starred as NFL legend Jim Brown, thanked Powers and compared the movie to a brotherhood when working with Ben-adir, Goree, and Odom. He said “I feel honored and we are making history with these titans (Malcom X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke). When receiving the award, all the men agreed that they were given the ability to pay respect to the life and legacy of trailblazers in history. 

This year’s NextGen award was presented to Emmy award winner Zendaya and actor John David Washington. Zendaya and Washiongton are best known for starring in Neflix film Malcom & Marie. Actress Taraji P. Henson, who starred in the Fox series Empire presented Zendaya and Washington with their awards. 

Zendaya was excited to receive this award and expressed how grateful she is to share her gifts with other people. Zendaya also reflected on her success and creating the first completed movie during the COVID-19 pandemic. Zendaya said “This has been such a great opportunity for me to be a young African American woman in film production.”  Once Zendaya finished Washington gave closing remarks that shed light on black love. Washington said “Being able to film black love and the intelligence of black love was a dream come true.” 

As the night progressed, the Director Award was presented to producer and co-writer Shaka King. Because of the film,  Judas and the Black Messiah, King is now known for his directorial contribution.  Judas and the Black Messiah, cast members Lakeith Stanfield, Dominique Fishback and Daniel Kaluuya presented King with the award. Fishback gives the meaning behind the film  which focused on William O’Neal who worked as the head of Fred Hampton’s Black Panther Security. Fishback said “This is a powerful story. You can kill a revolutionary but you can’t kill a revolution.” In closing Stanfield nodded in agreement with Fishback as Kaluuya added “Today the telling of black stories is vital.”

This year’s Producer Award was presented by actor and executive producer Michael Ealy. Ealy honored producer and musical artist John Legend. Along, with Emmy and Tony award winning film, television and theatre producer Mike Jackson. 

Legend and Jackson said that “Get Lifted” was produced to tell the story of underprivileged and marginalized people. “When we started this partnership we named it “Get Lifted” because we wanted to create content that was moving and would connect to our audience.” They both thanked and stressed the importance of young people, lifting people up, and  how we can be of help to one another.


Social justice is about equality in a person’s economic, political, and social opportunities. Dr. Tommie Smith is a field Olympic Gold Medalist who received the first Social Justice Award. Grey’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams presented the award to Smith. Williams started to reflect on historical figures that stood for social justice and the true definition of raising a fist. He said “a fist can mean power and unity many marginalized groups look at that fist as hope. John Lewis was standing up raising his fist to humankind for all people around the world. After winning the sprint final and gold medal, Dr. Smith raised a fist as a sign of black struggle and solidarity. Smith is thankful for the award but reminds the public that the fight is not over. Dr. Smith said “Standing up in the sight of humanity was a responsibility, to bring the need of hope forward.”

Tessa Thompson, actress in Amazon Prime Sylvie’s Love received the Actor Award. Nnamdi Asomugha, award winning actor and co-star in Sylvie’s Love presented Thompson with the award. Asomugha said it was amazing working with Thompson and how deserving she is of this honor. Thompson revealed how black love is supposed to feel and why we must continue to be transparent in the stories we tell. Thompson said “ This feels like a beacon of joy. The stories we tell about Black love. The film is a letter to “us.” In closing Thompson, recognizes the women in film who paved the way for her success and she feels visilble in the film industry. She said “When I see this, I see you. I am because of you.”

In honor of the late Chadwick Boseman, the Black Cinema Awards honored him with the Performance of the year award in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Boseman is known for his work in films such as Black Panther, Get On Up and 42. George C. Wolfe, who directed Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, paid tribute to Boseman and introduced his award.  In his speech, Wolfe shares the talent of Boseman and how impactful it was to work with him.

The final award of the night was the Career Achievement award presented by actor Jonathan Majors. Majors has starred in HBO series Lovecraft Country, Da 5 Bloods and Joe’s Talbot’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco. Major presented the award to  Tony and Drama Desk Award Nominee, Delroy Lindo. When presenting, Majors said “Delroy commands the screen with such regal presence.” In films such as This Christmas, Crooklyn, Spike Lee’s Clockers, and Malcom X, Delroy Lindo has been a giant in Black Cinema. Lindo believes in the black stories and diversity in media. “To be a part of inclusion and to be included is a part of history, he said.”

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