Veteran journalist, author and publicist Gil Robertson IV founded the AAFCA in 2003, well before the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and before the explosion of Black films and TV shows with Black talent in front of and behind the scenes. His vision was that Black film, and now TV, critics would have the opportunity to share their view of important films even though those critics were far and few between at mainstream publications. It has expanded to including screenings, panel discussions and an annual awards program.
This weekend, the AAFCA will host a panel at the Toronto International Film Festival – one of the industry’s big four festivals – that will examine how a film gets made from the initial script all the way through to its debut in festivals and into the theaters.
What is AAFCA and how did it come about? How long has it been around and what is its primary purpose?
The African American Film Critics Association is the largest group of Black film critics in the world. Our members include film (and increasingly TV) journalists and critics who work in TV, print, online and radio. Our mission is simple – to provide a voice for Black journalists and film critics.
We are also extremely committed to highlighting the work content about the Black experience, both domestically and internationally. We achieve our goals with year-round programming that includes workshops and panels conducted nationwide with community and academic partners around the country. AAFCA also produces an annual awards program that has growing influence in the industry and among consumers.
As a longtime industry journalist and publicist, why did you feel this organization was necessary? Aren’t there enough critics associations already?
AAFCA was created in response to the need for an organization that would assist Black journalists to represent the voice and viewpoints of Black people in TV and cinema. We were not receiving opportunities that would allow our careers to grow and saw that the same was true for Black content creators. With AAFCA, we are creating growth avenues for ourselves.
Was there a personal passion linked to this for you? Do you want to make films or just encourage others to do so? Does your group provide any scholarships, sponsorships or training?
I’ve never had an interest in making films per se, however, as a journalist and author, creating content that’s relevant to my experiences and worldview as a Black man is extremely important. I see my role in building AAFCA as a natural evolution of my professional life.
What do you think Hollywood needs to do to reflect the diversity of the works outside it and why is TV so much better at that?
The industry simply needs to get real with its commitment towards diversity and inclusion. Consumers want to invest their entertainment dollars in experiences that reflect their lives and not some recycled fantasy built on maintaining a status quo that is white and male. Unfortunately, Hollywood studios remain trapped in that mindset and that’s why their market shares are in decline. TV has been somewhat better at responding to the needs of their audience and that’s why they are winning.
Hollywood is coming off a bad summer. Is this indicative of the Netflix generation, the quality and/or lack of diversity in movies (superhero over saturation and overdone concepts) or just a harbinger of things to come as people’s viewing habits have changed?
I think it’s a little bit that Hollywood is in transition. Creativity has stalled at the big box studios and their market share is being eroded by new and innovative content creators who are utilizing distribution models like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Apple and others to find an audience. Also, studio executives remain unwilling to adopt a greater commitment to REAL diversity and I predict that will position them further behind at the box office.
You are moderating an event at TIFF. Tell me about that event and why it’s something you wanted to do or was needed there.
We have long partnered with film festivals in a variety of ways to educate their attendees about the role that film critics have on a movie’s bottom line. I approached Cameron Bailey (TIFF’s artistic director, who is Black) and his team with a few ideas about how AAFCA could bring value to their festival and together we worked to craft a discussion that examines the development of cinematic work from script to theatre.
The Toronto International Film Festival is one of the big 4 tent pole festivals in our industry, so having this conversation there will provide its audience with essential takeaways. After the panel, AAFCA and AT&T will host a private lunch that will celebrate the 42nd year of the renowned Momofuku Noodle Bar.
Hashtags: @aafca #theaafca #tiff17
PHOTO: Courtesy Gil Robertson IV
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