ABFF Ventures LLC announced Emmy Award-winning writer, creator, actor and founder of Hillman Grad Lena Waithe will serve as the ambassador for the 2023 American Black Film Festival (ABFF). As ambassador, Waithe, who has been an influential advocate for under-represented storytellers in Hollywood, will help bring awareness to ABFF’s mission of showcasing Black talent and discovering new voices and will collaborate with the festival for one-of-a-kind moments. The 27th ABFF will be held June 14-18 in Miami Beach followed by a virtual event June 19-25 on ABFF PLAY, https://abffplay.com/.
“Lena is a powerhouse in the film and television industry and a trailblazer for emerging creative artists,” said Nicole Friday, festival producer and president of ABFF Ventures LLC. “Her commitment to elevate diverse voices personifies ABFF’s commitment to diversify Hollywood. We are excited to have her unique perspective and talent as our 2023 ABFF Ambassador.”
“I am so honored to have been chosen as ABFF’s 2023 Festival Ambassador,” Waithe said. “I am excited to collaborate with the festival to shine a light on unique and groundbreaking stories and the creatives behind them.”
Since its inception, the highly anticipated festival has become a cornerstone for diversity in Hollywood. It has premiered the work and supported the careers of many of today’s most successful filmmakers, actors, writers and stand-up comedians and is recognized as the standard bearer of excellence for Black creativity. Continuing its legacy to empower Black artists and showcase a wide range of entertainment content, in 2023 ABFF will introduce three new cultural initiatives to its robust lineup including “About Women,” which will highlight the work and support comradery among women of color in the film and television industry; “Pro-Hollywood,” highlighting how professional athletes are using their platform to impact diversity in the entertainment industry; and “ABFF Pride,” a new series of screenings and talk events centered on the LGBTQIA+ community aptly timed to take place during Pride Month. The festival will continue to feature studio premieres independent films, master classes, panels, talent showcases, networking and hospitality events.
Waithe’s connection to the ABFF brand was previously established as an honoree at the ABFF HONORS, a coveted award show that salutes excellence in television and film. Waithe received the “Industry Renaissance Award” which is presented to content creators whose exemplary work in film and television contributes to changing perceptions of people of color in the entertainment industry.
As founder and chair of Hillman Grad Lena oversees a slate of projects that give marginalized storytellers access to the industry, including projects at Warner Bros., Netflix, BET, Disney, Amazon, Universal, Focus HBO, HBO Max and Showtime. Her company most recently negotiated an exclusive deal with Warner Bros. Television Group, which includes HBO Max, cable and broadcast networks.
Waithe created and executive produced the critically acclaimed Showtime series THE CHI, which has received a Peabody Award nomination, and she also received two NAACP Image Award nominations. Her semi-autobiographical series, TWENTIES, which she writes and executive produces for BET has been praised for being the first primetime series starring a masculine presenting Queer woman of color in a lead role. Recently, Waithe executive produced the film BEAUTY for Netflix, and is currently working on producing a Sammy Davis Jr. biopic. Other upcoming projects include: the feature directorial debut of A.V. Rockwell’s A THOUSAND AND ONE which is set for a March 2023 release; CHANG CAN DUNK for Disney+; and BEING MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE DOCUMENTARY, directed by James Adolphus.
On the acting front, Waithe can be seen in the critically acclaimed third season of MASTER OF NONE: MOMENTS IN LOVE on Netflix, which she co-wrote and executive produced. Waithe received an Emmy? Award in the category of “Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series,” for the series’ “Thanksgiving” episode making her the first Black woman to ever do so. Her credits also include HBO’s WESTWORLD, Justin Simien’s horror satire BAD HAIR, Steven Spielberg’s READY PLAYER ONE, Netflix’s #BLACKAF and their animated series BIG MOUTH, NBC’s THIS IS US and many more.
Waithe made her feature film screenwriting debut with Universal’s QUEEN & SLIM, directed by Melina Matsoukas and starring Academy Award® nominee Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner. An advocate for queer representation throughout the industry, Waithe has been honored with such recognitions as The New York City LGBT Community Center’s “Trailblazer Award,” a GLAAD “Media Award,” The Trevor Project’s “Hero Award,” the MTV Awards “Trailblazer Award,” and OUT Magazine’s “Artist of the Year.”
The list of former ABFF ambassadors includes, Issa Rae, Halle Berry, Mary J. Blige, Idris Elba, Tracee Ellis Ross, Regina Hall, La La Anthony, Jay Ellis, Morris Chestnut, Omari Hardwick, Common, Taraji P. Henson and Earvin “Magic” Johnson.