As a constellation of A-list stars descends to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the American Black Film Festival, founder Jeff Friday is able to look back at his masterpiece like a proud father.
An impressive cavalcade of Hollywoood heavyweights are showing up at the ABFF, which runs through to Nov. 28, 2021. Among them, Halle Berry, Debra Martin Chase, Morris Chestnut, Meagan Good, Charles D. King, Regina King, MC Lyte, Niecy Nash, Michael Rainey Jr., Amanda Seales, Larenz Tate, Flex Alexander and Shanice Wilson answered the call. Moreover, moviemaking mogul Will Packer is serving as the 2021 Jurors President.
But in the ABFF’s infancy, Friday was a film executive who just wanted to provide a viable platform for Black creatives to illuminate their brilliance to the world. The conspicuous scarcity of Black representation at the Sundance Film Festival in the 1990s inspired Friday to create the ABFF in Acapulco, Mexico, in 1997. Soon, the venue was changed to the fruitful South Beach area of Miami where it germinated into an international extravaganza for Black film and TV creation.
Here’s what Jeff and Nicole Friday did not expect that as they commenced the silver anniversary of the world’s largest and most influential film festival featuring Black content: that the iconic Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture would call and request their festival be immortalized within this prestigious edifice.
For Jeff and Nicole Friday, it was like being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“The single most proud moment I had (was when) we got a letter from the Smithsonian Museum of American of African American History and Culture in DC asking us to be part of their permanent collection,” Jeff Friday said, mentioning that 13 artifacts from the ABFF are enshrined within those hallowed halls.
“That’s our single proudest moment,” he continued. “And the letter went on to say, the reason that we had been invited is because of our impact on black culture globally. And they felt that it was significant enough to be recognized in the most important museum in our culture.”
Will Packer, the producer extraordinaire who brought us Girls Trip, Ride Along, Think Like a Man, Stomp the Yard, Straight Outta Compton, Three Can Play That Game, Trois and so many others, said he would have never gotten where he is if not for the Fridays and their ABFF.
“You cannot overstate the importance of a festival like this. So I really have to tell you … there was nobody else that was saying, ‘well, Packer come and do what you do. Show your craft.’ I didn’t have relationships. I didn’t have an agent. I didn’t have experience. I had nothing. I literally had nothing. I was an outsider,” Packer testified.
“And I didn’t know if I was talented. And I didn’t know if I would be successful. And I had nobody to validate me. If they don’t create this (festival), then you don’t have somebody like me.”