Selecting Lena Waithe as the 2023 ABFF Ambassador for the 27th Annual American Black Film Festival, taking place from June 14-18 in Miami, was a move that “just made sense,” shares ABFF president/COO Nicole Friday. “When we think about who we want to serve as the ambassador who has been a champion for emerging artists and young talent, who aligns with us where there are synergies, it was a no brainer. 

“Lena has done so much. She’s reached back,” Friday continues. “She has a platform through Hillman Grad and all the other things that she does where she gives opportunities, whether it's in front of the camera, behind the camera, on the executive track. All the things that are important to us, where we need to make sure that we are represented in the industry, that's what she does.”

“ABFF is just such a very important pillar in our industry as a whole,” says Waithe, explaining why she said yes. “It’s just a really important organization and I don’t know where we’d be without Nicole and Jeff (Friday) championing and lifting us up. Because without these types of organizations, festivals or events, I think a lot of us would feel unseen. And it feels better when you feel seen by your own.”

That reality is exactly what prompted then advertising exec Jeff Friday to create the festival back in 1997. Today that vision is a highly anticipated annual gathering that inspires as well as showcases the talents of Black filmmakers. This year’s festival, the second in-person one since the pandemic, promises Friday, is filled with great content. Major films premiering or showing at the festival include opening film They Cloned Tyrone starring Teyonah ParrisJohn Boyega, and Jamie Foxx and Gabrielle Union and Keith Powers’ The Perfect Find, both on Netflix. Renegade creative Boots Riley is sharing his Prime Video series I’m A Virgo starring Jharrel Jerome, and so is funnyman Deon Cole who stars in Average Joe, which will be out on BET+. There is even an ABFF First Look at the highly anticipated The Color Purple coming this Christmas. 

Friday is very excited about the HBO documentary Donyale Luna: Supermodel, who she explains is “the first Black supermodel to grace the cover of British Vogue,” because its director, Nailah Jefferson, “was part of the HBO Short Film Competition,” an ABFF signature that counts Black Panther director Ryan Coogler among its many winners and finalists. The Lena Waithe Effect and “That’s Our Business:” A Conversation with Tabitha & Chance Brown are among the festival’s many panels, plus there are parties like the legendary white party. 

The trailblazing Emmy winner—whose many credits since becoming the first Black woman to win in comedy writing for Master of None include the series The ChiTwenties, Boomerang and the films A Thousand and One, Queen & SlimThe Forty-Year-Old Version—says she will not debut any of her projects this year. Instead, she says she is happy to support.

“I’m literally coming. I think I’m gone say a few words and obviously I’m going to do my conversation. It’s so crazy because all of the people, all the projects, particularly The Perfect Find—like I’ve known [director] Numa [Perrier] back in the Black & Sexy TV days, and Codie [Oliver] I’ve known forever who is a producer on that as well; and author Tia Williams, I adapted her first book. They Cloned Tyrone, I know those filmmakers, and I’m working with them on something. And then I’m a Virgo, Boots [Riley] and I haven’t worked together yet, but we share a producer in Michael Ellenberg, he produced stuff that I did. So it’s very interconnected. So I will be there as a very proud cousin who is a person watching people’s work and just enjoying it as a fan, as an audience member.”

Get tickets to ABFF for both the in-person experience and the virtual one on ABFFPlay June 19-25 through

Ronda Racha Penrice is the author of Black American History For Dummies and editor of Cracking The Wire During Black Lives Matter.