Recognizing television programs and films that inspire hope, compassion and understanding is the laudable goal of the nonprofit organization Humanitas, which presented its 44th Annual Humanitas Prize awards at the Beverly Hills Hotel on Friday night.
Just like a traditional awards show, there is a host — in this case, writer and showrunner David Hudgins — and honorees and finalists in categories defined by genre.
The top television awards went to the writers of episodes of “Dear White People, “God Friended Me” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
What’s different about Humanitas is the winners get not only a trophy, but cash. And for the second year, all of the prize winners donated their $10,000 awards to organizations that nurture the careers of writers and filmmakers and promote social justice for marginalized groups.
And if that’s not enough to touch your heart, there were many moments during the ceremonies that did.
The organization’s first-ever independent feature film award was given to a film that will hit theaters in August, “Brian Banks.” It’s the story of a young man, a promising football player, who was imprisoned at the age of 16 after being wrongly accused of kidnapping and rape by a high school classmate.
The film’s writer, Doug Atchison, brought Banks on stage to a standing ovation. Banks told the audience he’d watched Atchison’s “Akeelah and the Bee” in his cell, and now they had come full circle — and that he hoped the film about his 11-year-long ordeal would make the world a better place.
Marta Kauffman, co-creator of the ever-popular “Friends” and the creative force behind “Grace & Frankie” was given the Kieser Award, named for Humanitas founder Father Ellwood “Bud” Kieser. It was presented by attorney Gloria Allred, the subject of the recent documentary “Seeing Allred,” on which Kauffman was a producer.
Despite her successes, going back to the beginning of her career with “Dream On” in 1990, Kauffman admitted she still found it very hard to consider herself a writer. She felt like she was seen only as a producer and that it would be a fraud to call herself the “W-word.” “It doesn’t matter if I claim the word writer, because I am,” she said. “At the end of the day, I get to say, ‘I wrote that.’”
Kenya Barris was honored with the Voice for Change award, but couldn’t attend the ceremonies, so “black-ish” cast member Marcus Scribner accepted on his behalf after Humanitas president Ali LeRoi made the presentation.
“Kenya is a rare type of writer. He peels back the layers in a way that makes us see who we are, and what we can be. He gives us a window of connection and understanding but disguises it in a 30-minute comedy,” LeRoi said.
Scribner reflected on how he first met Barris when he was 13 years old and had his first kiss on the set under Barris’ supervision. “He’s always been a guiding force and he’s not afraid to take a risk or make a stand with subjects including the N-word, police brutality, politics or corporal punishment,” said Scribner.
Humanitas executive director Cathleen Young also brought politics into the ceremonies. She called this year’s finalists “the quiet rebellion” in a world where a man “can assault a woman, brag about it, and be elected to the highest office in the land.”
“The finalists in this room — and our honorees — have something to say. Their words are powerful and meaningful,” she said. “Especially since we are living in a world where authentic storytellers and truth-tellers are increasingly critical to the health and stability of our democracy.”
Here is the list of winners:
60-minute Drama: “God Friended Me,” “Pilot” — Written by Steven Lilien and Bryan Wynbrandt
30-minute Comedy (dual winners): “Dear White People,” “Volume 2: Chapter VIII” — Written by Jack Moore, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Mid-way to Mid-town” – Written and directed by Amy Sherman-Palladino
Children’s Teleplay: “Alexa & Katie,” “Winter Formal, Part 2” — Written by Matthew Carlson
Drama Feature Film: “On the Basis of Sex” — Written by Daniel Stiepleman
Comedy Feature Film: “Love, Simon” — Screenplay by Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, based on the novel “Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli
Family Feature Film: “Mary Poppins Returns” — Screenplay by David Magee, screen story by David Magee, Rob Marshall, John Deluca, based upon the “Mary Poppins” stories by P.L. Travers
Independent Feature Film: “Brian Banks” — Written by Doug Atchison
Documentary: “Stolen Daughters: Kidnapped By Boko Haram” — Written and produced by Karen Edwards, directed by Gemma Atwal
The David And Lynn Angell College Comedy Fellowship: “Fernando” — Adam Lujan (NYU)
The Carol Mendelsohn College Drama Fellowship: “Rue Pigalle” — Jessica Shields (Columbia University)