African-American critics’ group splits after voting scandal

Posted by · 5:59 am · January 11th, 2010

Gabourey Sidibe in PreciousYou may well disagree, but I’ve never really understood the point of awards bodies that define themselves along racial lines.

Perhaps I’m missing the point, but when an African-American critic like Armond White is head of the NYFCC, or a film like “Precious” is receiving mainstream awards attention, the existence of a group like the African-American Film Critics’ Association seems a little self-marginalizing to me.

In any case, The Carpetbagger’s Melena Ryzik reports that the stature of the group has taken a knock after a number of AAFCA members left its ranks to form a rival group, the Black Film Critics’ Circle. This follows dissent within the group after AAFCA president Gil Robertson IV allegedly rigged the Best Actress vote to deny top vote-getter Gabourey Sidibe, in favor of “American Violet” star Nicole Beharie.

Ryzik does some prying:

“There was nothing gray, there was no close vote,” [former AAFCA member Wilson Morales] said in a phone interview. Asked why Mr. Robertson might’ve changed the vote, Mr. Morales said: “We never got an explanation, we don’t know.”

Mr. Robertson denied any wrongdoing.”I would like to emphatically state that any and all accusations related to ballot tampering by me or any member of the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) is without merit and totally untrue,” he wrote, adding that the controversy stemmed from “an incomplete ballot” that “was leaked to the press and used as the basis for a personal vendetta against our collective.”

The new Black Film Critics’ Circle will announce its own awards and 10 Best list at the beginning of February — no prizes for guessing who their Best Actress winner will be.




→ 23 Comments Tags: , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

23 responses so far

  • 1 1-11-2010 at 6:27 am

    Mike_M said...

    Guy, I agree with you…

  • 2 1-11-2010 at 6:42 am

    Casey Fiore said...

    couldnt agree more. self marginalizing is the perfect term to describe it

  • 3 1-11-2010 at 6:59 am

    Loyal said...

    I’m fine with it. Then again, I’m a minority.

  • 4 1-11-2010 at 7:02 am

    Encore Entertainment said...

    You’re absolutely correct Guy. There’s no point in having these sort of racially charged critics awards. For eg. taking the nods from last week: How is The Blind Side eligible as Best Picture but The Hurt Locker isn’t. And I’m black so it’s not a racially charged statement, it’s just so silly having these awards. Ah well. Whatever works for them.

  • 5 1-11-2010 at 7:07 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    Took the words right out of my mouth, made them better and more succinct, and published them here. Thank you for the truth.

    The only thing I would add is I would call awards divided along ANY lines, whether they be racial, religious, political, etc., self-marginalizing. A great film shouldn’t have qualifiers added to it, and a black actress should be recognized no differently than a white actress.

  • 6 1-11-2010 at 8:02 am

    Erik 815 said...

    Agree as much as the above posters and Guy. Then again, African American actors winning mainstream awards was disproportionally uncommon till less than a decade ago, before Washington, Berry, Foxx, and Whitaker, lest we should forget, so there was some just cause on the ground of mainstream discrimination.

    A marginalized minority can justify having its own awards on the basis of systematically being shut out of the mainstream. The actors have broken through, but let’s also not forget, Lee Daniels is fighting to be the second African American best director nominee. Ever. And there are still relatively VERY few non-white (or female, for that matter) talents who get rewarded for their work behind the camera.

    The example of Armond White is a nice example: look at political parties. Obama is president, Steele is gop chairman, but look at all the other top elected offices : 2 out of 50 governors and 1 out of 100 senators, and out of those 3, only one got elected. African-American politicians remain underrepresented across the line. Sidney Poitier became oscar’s poster-boy for ‘look-we’re-not-racist’ for 4 decades too.

    “self-marginalization” in this context is a fairly relative term.

  • 7 1-11-2010 at 8:08 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Remember that, though their winners skew heavily that way, the AAFCA doesn’t exist to exclusively recognise black-oriented cinema and black artists — Helen Mirren won their Best Actress award a few years ago, for example. So I don’t really get their purpose.

  • 8 1-11-2010 at 8:09 am

    Colin said...

    What Erik said. Even if films with minority elements (e.g. Precious) make their way into mainstream awards, it tends to be with massive amounts of hype and marketing. Good films with less marketing budget or clout on the whole still need critics’ groups to champion them, and minority films especially when there’s only so much space in the mainstream awards for them.

  • 9 1-11-2010 at 8:11 am

    Colin said...

    @Guy: Oops, I was composing my comment while you typed yours. Yeah, in that case, it seems like it’s the critics who want to self-define themselves by their minority status. A little strange, though still justifiable if we’re using awards to represent the response of a “demographic”.

  • 10 1-11-2010 at 8:22 am

    Adam M. said...

    “You may well disagree, but I’ve never really understood the point of awards bodies that define themselves along racial lines.

    Perhaps I’m missing the point, but when an African-American critic like Armond White is head of the NYFCC, or a film like “Precious” is receiving mainstream awards attention, the existence of a group like the African-American Film Critics’ Association seems a little self-marginalizing to me.”

    I was just have this exact same discussion with a fellow movie blogger online. And Guy, I agree with you completely. I think I actually used the exact same words you did when I was making my case to my movie blogger friend.

    When AAFCA announced their awards and ‘Precious’ made (nearly) a clean sweep, it made the organization look shameful and predictable. Is there really a need to have a critics group that awards their top prizes to the year’s most successful movie starring/about/made by black people? Imagine if a group called BBFCA– the blonde-haired, blue-eyed film critics assocation– existed that honored films only starring/about/made by blonde-haired, blue-eyed people. It sounds like an absurd notion, but it’s effectively the same thing.

    Some will say that AAFCA somehow “represents” the black community by keeping their interests and experiences specifically in mind where other critic groups do not. But I take issue with this claim. What could a group of people possibly have in common that they would require such representation based solely on an inherent, physical trait like skin color? I assure you that there are many black people who could not directly relate to anything in ‘Precious.’ To assume or believe otherwise is the sort of small-minded, marginalizing thinking that sustains a status quo based on prejudice.

    In fact, I think the same can be said for any group that attempts to represent a faction of society based on an inherent characteristic like skin color, or sexual orientation. These groups assume that all people with a particular characteristic have some sort of experience in common, when in truth, these people come from many “walks of life” and cover a spectrum of principles and values. To then speak on behalf of all these people, as many of these groups do, falsely represents and therefore undeservedly marginalizes large chunks of these people.

    Instead of lumping people together based on skin color or sexual orientation as progressive society is want to do, shouldn’t advocacy groups exist to represent people who actually do have something substantial in common? Like people who actually share in the same experiences or have the same value sets across the board? This tends to be true of socio-economic classes– not minority groups. Assuming this is true of minority groups subconsciously equates these groups with particular (often lower) socio-economic classes, which is further a dangerous and marginalizing phenomenon.

    I’m wrapping up my schpiel here, I promise. But just to emphasize my point: how can a group like AAFCA claim to embody the values of black people when black people do not, cannot share common values across the board? What about the color of your skin, an unimportant, superficial physical trait, leads you to adopt a certain set of values or share in some common experience? Groups like AAFCA lump people together based on superficialities, people who are bound to have little, if anything, in common beyond from the color of their skin. This way of thinking only helps water the seeds of prejudice. Instead, people should be represented based on actual similar experiences, and society should be blind to physical or other inherent human characteristics that say nothing of a person’s character.

  • 11 1-11-2010 at 8:26 am

    aspect ratio said...

    Why would anyone want to pay to win an award that means absolutely nothing? I can’t imagine having “Winner Best Actress Random Unknown Film Critics Association” on your DVD cover helps in any significant way to sell/rent more.

  • 12 1-11-2010 at 8:34 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    “Imagine if a group called BBFCA– the blonde-haired, blue-eyed film critics assocation– existed that honored films only starring/about/made by blonde-haired, blue-eyed people.”

    Man, “The White Ribbon” would CLEAN UP.

  • 13 1-11-2010 at 8:38 am

    Loyal said...

    “Imagine if a group called BBFCA– the blonde-haired, blue-eyed film critics assocation– existed that honored films only starring/about/made by blonde-haired, blue-eyed people.”

    Isn’t that most film critics and the films they honor?

  • 14 1-11-2010 at 8:53 am

    Erik 815 said...

    @Adam: who wrote “What about the color of your skin, an unimportant, superficial physical trait, leads you to adopt a certain set of values or share in some common experience?”

    According to their website, they were founded “Mindful of our shared concerns – regarding the failure of the film industry to promote images and themed stories from the African Diaspora – we agreed to organize a collective of Black film critics, in response to this pervasive issue.”

    I believe the common trait here is that this group feels marginalized, and that’s what holds them together as a group. Admittedly, that alone is not much, and as the marginalization declines, so do the bonds that hold them together. Add to that the increasing corruption, and weird upsets like Mirren’s win, and headscratching choices (Anika Noni Rose for the Princess and the Frog?), and the organization increases to marginalize itself, and diminish it’s own reason to exist.

    But while I can criticize groups like this, I have to be nuanced. I applaud minority groups who hand out awards to people who promote the acceptance and equality of those groups specifically, and I am mindful that groups that hand out awards for activities (such as filmmaking) that don’t really have a thing to do with race, gender, etc. should have a good reason for doing so.

    The precious sweep makes it quite clear that this sort of thing has become somewhat superfluous. The lack of competition Sidibe faced does shine an interesting light on the total lack of strong roles for African-American women, but that was probably not really their point.

    I can imagine a film critics group that doesn’t try to mirror regular awards shows, but points out only singular examples of how woefully underrepresented minority groups are. One of the problems awards like the AAFCA inadvertedly often point out, for example, is that there just aren’t really many great roles for African-Americans in mainstream American movies. Thus, they often scrape the bottom of the barrel to fill up their categories, coming up with lists that diminish their own value as a critics group.

    I agree with you, Adam, that people SHOULD be represented based on actual similar experiences, and society SHOULD be blind to physical or other inherent human characteristics that say nothing of a person’s character. But this is often not the case, and people have to find a reasonable way to draw attention to the inequalities they face. But trying to mimic major awards shows and not coming up with reasonable alternatives to nominates, that is the type of thing that can only water the seeds of prejudice.

    And that’s the same fundamental problem as with all positive discrimination or affirmative action. A minority group is not handed the same opportunities, but a small quota is given the same rewards and benefits regardless of the quality of what they offer or produce. In the film industry, the problem is not that there aren’t enough African-Americans being handed awards, the problem is that they’re underrepresented across the base. You don’t fix that by throwing more awards at them, you fix it by getting more and more of them into film schools, acting schools, helping them to advance through the system, finance their films. Everything along the way to making a film that represents them and can compete on its own merits, like “Precious”, rather than seeing what’s out there every year and giving it some awards.

    I’m sure I contradicted myself in part somewhere in there, but the point is: it’s somehwat complicated.

  • 15 1-11-2010 at 8:56 am

    Paul Outlaw said...

    Like the Women Film Critics Association (or whatever it’s called), the Kansas Film Critics, and, yes, the New York Film Critics Circle, I’ve always thought that the actual point of the AAFCA was to raise the profile of the critics themselves, not necessarily to honor the films and the filmmakers. Color me cynical.

  • 16 1-11-2010 at 9:10 am

    Encore Entertainment said...

    “Imagine if a group called BBFCA– the blonde-haired, blue-eyed film critics assocation– existed that honored films only starring/about/made by blonde-haired, blue-eyed people.”

    Isn’t that most film critics and the films they honor?”

    Loyal, calling foul about awards choices is a bit unfair. Honestly, how many good and potent black dramas are snubbed by awards? I suppose there are a few. Well add that to the number of potent and good NON BLACK dramas that are snubbed. To be fair, when black films or actors are particularly good, and sometimes not even then, awards bodies’ across the board will get on board. It’s more a question of not enough good black films being made, but that’s no reason to self marginalise yourself as Guy puts it.

    Did you see the nods from, I believe, the NAACP awards? Idris Elba nominated for Obsessed? Really?

  • 17 1-11-2010 at 10:01 am

    lovespike said...

    Then you must go into why no good black dramas are being made or even prominent roles for African-Americans within majority dramas. That is the real issue. If you go by the numbers it is actually staggering, in fact if you remove Tyler Perry the number of black women getting quality roles is dangerously low. I actually do think the AAFCA is obsolete, I don’t think they do anything to increase black film awareness on a national scale that I have noticed. But the disparity cannot be ignored, there is one, but what to do? who knows? But we cant let every Precious or Halle Berry come along to soothe are concerns. Precious is an anomaly.

  • 18 1-11-2010 at 10:20 am

    Silencio said...

    It’s my opinion that the African American community, in particular, benefits from having their own critics groups for film awards. That kind of continuous reminder that black people intelligently care about film is important for young kids that are wrapped up in the daily saturation of “hip hop”. There’s still a subtle stigma that I feel, so I like that these groups exist. And honestly, they’ll put in the effort to see the little known films made by African Americans that most of us never hear of, so those filmmakers can be considered as well.

    That said, I wish their choices of winners were more diverse. They don’t need to be all black, or even mostly black. If Up in the Air won half the awards from these groups, there would be a legitimacy to back up their choice of an obscure black film winning Best Actress or something. These groups should exist, but not only for their “own” films.

  • 19 1-11-2010 at 10:21 am

    Silencio said...

    btw, I’m black, for the sake of context.

  • 20 1-11-2010 at 12:09 pm

    THE Diego Ortiz said...

    I got no problem with the AAFCA. They got it right last year naming “The Dark Knight” best pic.

  • 21 1-11-2010 at 1:36 pm

    Melissa said...

    Let’s complain about the Asian Awards, the Women Critics Awards or the Russian, German, Italian etc. Sorry, but almost every racial, White ethnic group and minority group have their own awards. I personally get sick of hearing people complain about them. I think it’s best if you try to understand WHY they were created in the first place, if you do and don’t like them, then don’t follow them. Or better yet send them an email or letter to complain about why you don’t see the need for them.

  • 22 1-11-2010 at 3:13 pm

    Brian D. said...

    Well said, Melissa.

  • 23 1-11-2010 at 6:21 pm

    Katie said...

    Umm.. are you serious??

    MOST films made by African Americans and starring African Americans actors are IGNORED. PERIOD. “Precious” is an anomaly.

    With all due respect, you are living in an alternate reality Mr. Lodge.