ABFF Founder Jeff Friday Urges Black Hollywood to ‘Open the Doors’ to Others (Exclusive)

Jeff Friday (Credit: abff.com)

The way American Black Film Festival Founder Jeff Friday sees it, the time for Black Hollywood is now.

That’s because, amid the nation’s racial awakening, Hollywood is “a copycat industry” sometimes driven by guilt and conscience, said Friday, founder and CEO of ABFF Ventures, which specializes in producing live events and content focused on African American culture.

“I think opportunities are going to open up like you’ve never seen before and there are things happening with Black individuals you’ve never seen,” Friday told us in a recent Zoom interview.

Related Story: American Black Film Festival Unveils Slate, Including Yusuf Hawkins HBO Doc

As the festival founder explained, some Black people in the entertainment industry are benefiting from this new wave of social consciousness following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer in May. Friday called on those reaping the benefits to share their good fortune with other talented Black folks.

“If we don’t open the doors for everybody else, it’s just gonna be another group of famous Black people and everybody else won’t be in the same position,” he said. “Every time I get a chance to talk, and I don’t care what they think about me, because I’m going to say it. I insist that Black people don’t think about themselves first, as it relates to these opportunities. We have got to think about, ‘yes, I just got a deal and who am I going to bring into the fold?'”

He compared the film and television industries to an exclusive nightclub with a bouncer and velvet rope.

“You got the velvet ropes outside of the big door, and a man saying you can come in. That’s just how it works,” he explained.

“Yes, this moment has created a lot of opportunities for us, but it’s going to flatten real soon. My projection is it will flatten in the next 60 days, 90 days, maybe,” he added. “Before it flattens, those of us who have benefited from it, have got to reach back and grab somebody else.”

Related Story: Oprah Says Black People Everywhere ‘Recognized That Knee’ on George Floyd’s Neck

It’s also time to start increasing Black ownership of distribution companies and intellectual properties, Friday insisted.

The former advertising executive founded ABFF 24 years ago to recognize Black talent. “We’re really proud of the legacy of supporting young black filmmakers,” Friday noted.

The festival first launched in Acapulco, Mexico. Now it calls Miami Beach home. While Friday lives in Los Angeles, he said many industry insiders welcome the chance to get away from the hubbub of L.A. and New York to spend a few days in a tropical setting.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s festival will take place virtually for the first time. The event runs from Aug. 21-30 and is free to the public.

“So typically, 10,000 people will show up to Miami for the event,” Friday said. “The one good thing about the virtual space is now more people can see the films.”

Grammy award-winning singer and actress Mary J. Blige, who was twice nominated for an Academy Award, is this year’s ABFF ambassador.

“We’ve got an amazing lineup of celebrities and filmmakers who are participating this year — all through virtual panels,” Friday said.

The slate of speakers includes MC Lyte, Kenya Barris, Gabrielle Union, Lena Waithe, Barry Jenkins, Norman Lear, Gina Prince- Bythewood, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, and many more.

Ninety films, including narrative features, documentaries, short films and LGBTQIA movies, will be shown during the festival. Half of them are by first-time filmmakers, Friday said.

Ryan Coogler, who directed Black Panther, showed his short film Fig at the festival in 2012. He won ABFF’s prestigious HBO Short Film Competition as a USC student before going on to make his first full-length feature, the critically acclaimed Fruitvale Station.

“We’re the place where black filmmakers bring their first project,” Friday said about ABFF.

Meanwhile, about 40 percent of the films that will be shown this year are directed by women.

“Black women are making great movies these days,” Friday said.

The 10-day festival, which includes more than two dozen panels and some virtual networking, will offer a mix of live and on-demand content. For more information, head over to abff.com.