The Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood was bubbling with exuberant energy as patrons gathered to celebrate Tina Mabry (Mississippi Damned, Queen Sugar, Melody 1963: Love Has To Win) as she received the Outfest Fusion Achievement Award during the 2017 Outfest Gala and short film presentation.

The shorts showcase included a variety of stories such as Sidekicks, Walk for Me, Private Dick, According to My Mother, Care, Get The Life, among others. Filmmakers behind the named shorts were present during the gala and were provided a platform onstage to discuss the importance of their respective stories.

Before the shorts screening, D.B. Woodside and Michael Hyatt (each worked with Mabry in Mississippi Damned) presented Mabry with the award with glowing tributes for the writer/director.

Woodside introduced a montage of the work Mabry has created and contributed to the arts canon noting that her stories are “compassionate yet uncompromising.” As he stated, “there is no single Black experience in America” and Mabry’s work was evidence of that fact. His speech was also warm and affectionate, citing their bar outings and how Mabry was there for him during the two hardest times of his life. In essence, she had become family for him and their relationship extended beyond the on-set duties of filmmaking.

Hyatt followed, with a sisterly tribute to Mabry, beginning her piece with an extended and sentimental gaze at the honoree, stating, “How quickly things changed, but when you’re in it, it seems like a snail’s pace.” Citing various struggles and setbacks, such as a tornado’s fury bum-rushing their set, being bumped by a bigger name at a festival, and distribution difficulties, Hyatt weaved the poignant theme of “kept going.” Throughout it all, Mabry kept going.

After a boisterous standing ovation, Mabry proudly walked onstage and accepted her award. She started with praising Outfest for fostering her career, having had her short film, Brooklyn’s Bridge to Jordan debut at the inaugural festival in 2004. Her feature, Mississippi Damned then went on to win the Grand Jury Award for Outstanding US Dramatic Feature Film in 2009.

Likely, the most memorable moment of her speech was when she reminisced about screening Mississippi Damned at The Directors Guild of America’s (DGA) “big hall,” a huge dream of hers. After the screening, a woman in her 70s stood up and came out as a sexual abuse survivor, having told no one else prior. With that experience and others similar to that, Mabry stated that “film is such a powerful weapon,” and declared, “It’s not just enough for diverse people to tell the same stories, we have to create a microcosm.” Mabry had many quotables throughout the night, and ended with an inspirational push: “I feel lucky, but it’s not just luck. [As someone told me] ‘luck is the residue of hard work.’”

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Tonja Renée Stidhum is a screenwriter/director with cheeks you want to pinch... but don't (unless she wants you to). She is made of sugar and spice and everything rice... with the uncanny ability to make a Disney/Pixar reference in the same sentence as a double entendre.

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