Hollywood and Inclusivity – How The African American Film Critics Association Is Working To Ensure Equality

The African American Film Critics Association – also known as AAFCA – was born in NYC in 2003 out of a critical need for the representation and promotion of images and themed stories from the African Diaspora. An organization of respected Black film critics and journalists, AAFCA is committed to bridging the gap of exposure for Black filmmakers and artists. 

More important now more than ever, AAFCA is ensuring that minorities receive equal acclaim and representation in the film industry. 

“The African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) actively reviews cinema at-large, with a particular emphasis on films which include the Black experience,” describes AAFCA. “The organization creates a platform for movies with universal appeal to the African-American community, while highlighting films produced, written, directed and starring, persons from the African Diaspora. Our members are also involved in our advocacy work that includes programming for students interested in film criticism and journalism.”

Gil Robertson serves as the president of the African American Film Critics Association. He recently joined host and Publisher Brian Calle on the L.A. Weekly Weekly podcast to discuss what’s going on in the entertainment industry and how it relates to race relations progress. 

“As an African American, learning how to navigate race relations is something that I deal with every day of my adult life, and certainly that is true in Hollywood,” explains Gil. “Race is definitely a factor that you have to manage. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it isn’t.” 

According to their website: AAFCA members are a geographically diverse cross-section of journalists, covering all genres of the cinematic arts, while representing multiple mediums – including print, TV, radio broadcast and online. Collectively, they have reached a worldwide audience in excess of 100 million. 

While they are now a respected and sought-after organization – whose AAFCA Awards span back 11 years – being a young black journalist has been a historically difficult road, one that Gil knows too well. 

Growing up in South Central L.A., Gil had a fire for the arts that was stoked from a young age. A love of playwriting brought him to a love of writing and film, but building a career out of his passions was no easy task. He has now dedicated his life to ensuring that other young Black aspiring journalists have the platform and support they need to open doors and follow dreams. 

“Obviously, as a journalist, access is very important,” he states. “And your ability to gain access to A-list talent allows you to grow your career, it creates sustainability in regards to how you are able to support yourself and your family.”

As a journalist himself, Brian has a deep respect for the challenges of the career. He’s seen an increase in representation in both film and T.V., as well as a vocal call for change in terms of awards exclusivity. Was this galvanized effort the work of AAFCA? 

“We’ve certainly had a voice in all of that,” Gil says. “While we were not responsible for #OscarsSoWhite organization, we certainly took part in a lot of the dialogues that were built up around the fact that minorities – not just Black people, Asians and Hispanics as well – very often feel ignored in awards season.”

While Emmy nominations are being lauded for including more Black talent, many are noting that there was still a startling lack of Asian and Hispanic nominations. 

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” Gil agrees. “At AAFCA, we definitely want to be a part of the solution in making sure that our society lives up to the ideals of inclusivity and diversity.” 

Brian asks what tangible solutions he and his colleagues at AAFCA would like to see. 

“I think just an openness and willingness to understand someone else’s point of view, recognizing that a lot of communities in this country that are defined by race or gender perhaps have some real grievances with how they’ve been treated by the status quo,” answers Gil. 

“Just to have an openness to be aware that those feelings are valid and to be conscious of – if you’re white – of the privilege that you have and be an agent to change, to contribute to change,” he continues. 

“I think how that occurs is by what you and I are doing right now,” Gil tells Brian. “Something as simple as having a conversation and getting to know another person and point of view. Obviously there are systemic things that are going to take work in a different sort of way, in terms of how policies are created and implemented, but I think the first step is the act of having a cup of coffee or breaking bread with a person who may not look like you from there that creates a foundation of growth and understanding.”

How do we ensure we implant real change, when racism – both intentional and unintentional – seems ingrained into so many aspects of society? 

“Hopefully one of the outcomes from George Floyd’s murder is that the public will not allow this to continue, and will demand for a different type of training with law enforcement,” Gils presses. 

“Black lives, particularly Black men, have been devalued in this country almost since black people arrived on the shores of America. So what we are seeing today is just a manifestation of behavior that Black men have witnessed and felt for hundreds of years,” he shares from experience.

Brian feels it’s frustrating that society must be reminded that the basis for the founding of America is that all men are to be created equal. “The most frustrating thing is that we have to have a conversation in 2020 to remind people this is true,” he laments. However, our host does find encouragement in the conversations that are taking place today.

“I’m really excited about the spirit of entrepreneurship,” says Gil, sharing his positive take-aways. “I’m excited about creatives that are telling their stories and who are not only looking for a seat at the table but they’re owning the whole room and they’re providing opportunity for the next wave of Black creatives to tell their story without apology.”

“To be able to tell your story, to be able to tell your truth, that’s important if you’re a creative. Too often Black creatives, Brown creatives, creatives from other backgrounds – their stories get tampered with, their stories get broken apart. The integrity in them gets stolen, and so I’m hoping from what we’ve seen happening … hopefully this new class of creatives of color … are unafraid to tell their truth are creating an infrastructure around them that allow them to tell those stories,” he finishes. 

What are the biggest hurdles to overcome in today’s entertainment industry? 

“People are afraid of change,” Gil sighs. “People are comfortable in the worlds that they have created for themselves and don’t necessarily want to make room for other people who have ideas that challenge theirs. This manifests through racism, sexism, and that exists in majority culture and entertainment culture, Hollywood culture as well. Just people overcoming their fears of the other. That has stamped out a lot of dreams, that people who are different from the status quo have had over the years.”

From his decades of reporting, Gil believes that most communities of people are just looking to operate in a fair and equitable environment. 

“Absolutely, a true meritocracy,” agrees Brian. “Everyone just wants the same chance anyone else has.”

The interview in its entirety can be found: iTunes, Spotify, Cumulus Los Angeles.

Tara Finley