Icon Mann Honors: Gina Prince-Bythewood Talks ‘Woman King’ Impact as Reginald Hudlin Celebrated by Kamala Harris
The filmmakers Gina Prince-Bythewood and Reginald Hudlin were celebrated on Wednesday evening at the eighth pre-Oscar dinner of Icon Mann, a media and consulting company run by Tamara Houston that is dedicated to honoring the achievements of artists of color and providing a meeting place for powerful Black men, in particular.
During an elegant ceremony at the Waldorf Astoria in Beverly Hills that was hosted by CBS News anchor Errol Barnett, many of the most distinguished members of Hollywood’s Black community gathered to fete the veteran filmmakers behind two of 2022’s most acclaimed films — Prince-Bythewood’s Sony historical drama The Woman King and Hudlin’s Apple TV+ documentary feature Sidney — both of which were glaringly passed over for recognition by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the first person to toast Prince-Bythewood — the recipient of the Maverick Award “for breaking boundaries in the cinematic and televised portrayal of African diasporic depictions” — was the Academy’s EVP of member relations and awards, Shawn Finnie. Finnie noted that no award exists that can adequately acknowledge the cultural impact of her films, which also include 2000’s Love & Basketball, 2008’s The Secret Life of Bees, 2014’s Beyond the Lights and 2020’s The Old Guard.
Then Prince-Bythewood’s husband, the filmmaker Reggie Rock Bythewood, spoke about his wife’s perseverance: “She gets an idea, she holds onto it, it doesn’t really matter what or who’s in the way, and she gets to the front of the line.”
He also recounted a dinner last week with their 22-year-old son in New York, during which they overheard a “white couple in their sixties” talking about movies, “and it was very clear that the guy is a voting member of the Academy.” When they began discussing the BAFTAs, Bythewood said, “I was like, ‘Hey, I heard you guys talking. I was just at the BAFTAs.’ And they were like, ‘Really? Were you there with a film?’ I said, ‘Nah, actually my wife’s film, The Woman King.’ It was like, blank. And I said, ‘You know, starring Viola Davis?’ They were like, ‘Oh, really? Where can we see it?’ I’m like, alright, well, ‘It’s on Netflix now.’ And check it out, like, they weren’t overtly racist; they were very personable, right? But there’s such a disconnect.”
He continued, “Maybe some of you have seen or heard of this article that Gina put out in The Hollywood Reporter? Thank you to all of you who have posted it and championed (it). There were some haters out there, and some people questioned ‘Why would somebody like Gina, who has had such an illustrious career, speak out?’ But here’s the deal: in the history of the Academy Awards, there’s never been a Black person who won the best director category… in the history of the Academy, there’s never been a Black woman nominated in that category… So check this out: if you are not content with being at the back of the line, you call them out.”
Prince-Bythewood, in her acceptance speech, spoke about the mission that runs through her body of work: “From the beginning, I have fought to tell stories of Black women and girls and reframe the narrative of who we are and what we can be. I want us to look up on the screen and see ourselves reflected in a way that inspires us so that we can aspire to be. And I am proud of the Black men that I have centered in my work — they are layered, loving, strong, vulnerable, heroic and real. I’m able to write them well because I have such an incredible example of a strong Black man at home. Real strong Black men celebrate strong Black women and lift them up. Reggie has always been my biggest champion. There is no limit to how far he believes I can go. We both aspire to greatness, and it’s rooted in a love of our people and a shared belief that we can change the world with our work.”
She closed, “The success of Black Panther opened the door for The Woman King, and now the success of The Woman King will keep that door open for more incredible stories about our history and our culture.”
To present the Icon Award “for lifetime achievement in the creative industries” to Hudlin, who was seated beside Disney Entertainment co-chair and longtime friend Dana Walden, political activist and commentator Van Jones spoke about how much Hudlin’s 1990s comic books about the Black Panther meant to Jones when he was a bullied child, and to many others. Jones then surprised Hudlin with a video message from Vice President Kamala Harris, a longtime friend who Hudlin and his wife, Chrisette Hudlin, set up on a blind date in 2013 with her future husband, Doug Emhoff. Harris described Hudlin as “an exceptional artist and one of my closest friends, my brother, Reggie… a member of my extended family,” and emphasized, “Reggie Hudlin has brought joy and inspiration to millions of people.”
Hudlin, in accepting his award, said of his career, “I’ve really focused on creating blueprints for living for Black men and Black families, because as Black men we have to be the men that Black women deserve. And I just think overall we need to dream bigger. You know, America’s collapsing around us, and that’s because there’s a bunch of people who can’t handle the truth about this country and can’t handle participating in a meritocracy. So we — the people who built this country — have to live up to the opportunity that our ancestors made for us. We have to stop fighting the power and be the power. A lot of people don’t want to hear a story about the old days — ‘Oh, that’s torture porn, I don’t want to go back there’ — but if you don’t control the past, you don’t control the present, which means you don’t control the future. So it’s not about telling ‘torture porn,’ it’s about telling stories of resilience and brilliance and winning and putting foot to ass, because who doesn’t want to see that?”
Also honored at Wednesday night’s gathering: Dr. Uzodinma Iweala, CEO of The Africa Center NY, “for transforming the world’s understanding and engagement of contemporary Africa through the arts and culture.”