*Gabourey Sidibe may be on Hollywood’s good side for her breakthrough role in the film “Precious,” but the actress’ performance is at the center of a new situation involving the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA).

According to reports, internal drama within the organization has surfaced with its award for Best Actress going to Nicole Beharie, the star of the critically acclaimed drama “American Violet.”  Beharie’s victory surprised supporters of Sidibe, who felt the young star deserved the recognition for her role as an illiterate, overweight teen that endures and overcomes physical, mental and sexual abuse from her mother and father.

Since its release in November, Precious has received critical and public praise with recognition at this year’s Sundance, Cannes and Toronto International film festivals. At Sundance, the film, which also stars Mo’Nique, Mariah Carey and Paula Patton, received an Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize for best drama. Mo’Nique collected the event’s Special Jury Prize for supporting actress.

In early December, “Precious” garnered further recognition with a Golden Globe award nomination for Best performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture Drama for Sidibe. The nomination is the latest in a string of accolades the actress has collected for her work in the film.

Like “Precious,” “American Violet” has garnered praise from numerous critics, who voiced their approval over the production as a whole as well as what Roger Ebert called a “stunning performance” by Beharie.

Former Fox News entertainment blogger Roger Friedman attributed the discord within the AAFCA to accusations of ballot tampering from AAFCA co-founder Gil Robertson IV.


Gil Robertson


“Critics of the AAFCA co-founder Gil Robertson IV claim that he manipulated the final tally to please the producers of ‘American Violet,’ Friedman wrote last week on a blog for The Hollywood Reporter. “Since then, the awards group has succumbed to massive infighting.”

The drama among AAFCA members comes amid talk of the group being a shell of its unified self. The association, founded by Robertson and Shawn Edwards in 2003, is known for its efforts to create awareness platforms for films with universal appeal to the black community as well as films produced, written, directed and starring people of African descent.

In addition, the AAFCA actively reviews the quality and standards of cinema overall, with a particular emphasis on films about the black experience.

In regard to the association’s current plight, Friedman mentioned internal AAFCA e-mails he had seen that “allude to payments from studios and outside influence affecting the choices of winners.”

In an e-mail he obtained from the association’s president, Wilson Morales, Friedman revealed the executive’s disappointment with Robertson while defending the integrity of the AAFCA. In addition, Friedman further alludes to efforts to oust Roberts from the association he helped create.

“‘As you know your recent actions have been called into question because of a series of choices you made without the approval of the founding members of the group, including myself,” Morales wrote. “ . . . Our collective view is that an organization that gives out awards should be ethical and not subjected to bias based on donations from outside sources, and if that at some point comes into conflict with some of our additional goals to curry favor with the studios and get major press coverage or a broadcast deal.’ ”

Robertson addressed the controversy as well as the AAFCA’s current status in a statement issued Sunday (Dec. 27), saying that “recent allegations that have appeared in the media” as well as “any and all accusations related to ballot tampering by me or any member of the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) is without merit and totally untrue.

“In addition, claims that the group is divided, near collapse or is calling for my resignation are entirely false,” continued Robertson, who further validated his views while mentioning how his statement was “signed and supported by an overwhelming majority of current AAFCA members.”

“These journalists stand by me and the organization in opposition to the slanderous claims of wrongdoing made by three disgruntled former members,” the co-founder added about the 14 writers who signed the statement. “…At no time in our history has the integrity of the outcome of our selections been called into question.  The fact that an incomplete ballot was leaked to the press and used as the basis for a personal vendetta against our collective is an egregious act that threatens the principles of any organization striving toward shared values.”

Despite Robertson’s claims, Morales confessed on Monday (Dec. 28) during an interview with “Journal-isms” that many of the writers who signed the co-founder’s statement were new members who did not know their names were being used to support Roberts. Ultimately, the blackfilm.com editor feared the AAFCA controversy could only hurt “Precious.”

Despite the controversy, “Precious” remained high on the minds of AAFCA members as the association awarded the Lee Daniels-directed film its prize for best film.