The Broadcast Film Critics’ Association is hardly the first group or individual to note that this has been remarkable year for black filmmakers and black-themed films. Ever since “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” emerged as a surprise box-office sleeper in the summer, followed shortly afterward by the triumphant festival debut of “12 Years a Slave” — both films consolidating the Sundance success of Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station” in January — the shorthand narrative of 2013 as “the year of black cinema” has been cemented in the media, and inevitably bled into the awards race.
If the label sounds a little pat to some — rather like the branding of 2009 as “the year of the woman,” as Kathryn Bigelow began her march to the Oscar podium — we can only hope that it’s not so much an isolated banner year as a breakthrough one, indicative of an industry sea change.
Either way, the BFCA believe it’s significant enough to merit a celebratory event, separate from the so-called Critics’ Choice Film Awards for which the group is best known — though it’s safe to assume that at least a few films will link the two. Their “Celebration of Black Cinema” evening will take place on January 7 (nine days before the CCFA ceremony) at Los Angeles’ House of Blues, and will be attended by a host of industry luminaries, including many of the filmmakers and stars of the 2013 films in question.
BFCA president Joey Berlin explained the thinking behind the event: “After watching ’42,’ ‘Mandela,’ ’12 Years A Slave,’ ‘Lee Daniels” The Butler,’ ‘Fruitvale Station,’ ‘Best Man Holiday’ and so many more, we realized never has a single year featured such a wide range of movies with such memorable performances both in front of and behind the camera.” Among the films he doesn’t mention that I expect (or hope) will also be honored at the event are Andrew Dosunmu’s extraordinary Nigerian immigrant drama “Mother of George” and Alexandre Moors’ chilling “Blue Caprice” — both Sundance standouts — and, on the more commercial end of the spectrum, Kasi Lemmons’ upcoming Langston Hughes adaptation “Black Nativity.”
Pete Hammond points out that, neatly enough, this celebration arrives 50 years after Sidney Poitier made history as the first actor to win an Oscar for a leading role. Could this anniversary be marked a few months down the line by Steve McQueen becoming the first black director to take the gold? It’ll be interesting to see if the BFCA (who have never been shy to broadcast their Oscar-foreshadowing abilities) further assist this notion with their own awards the following week.