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The creation of a statuette to symbolize the recognition of black film & television talent was first undertaken by renowned Jamaican born sculptor, Fowokan George Kelly* under commission from the inaugural edition of the bfm (black filmmaker) International Film Festival. The statuette based on a West African mask signifies that there is a change coming. A mask takes the wearer from one state into another and in this case from being unrecognized and unrewarded to being recognized and celebrated.
First created to be awarded for the bfm Short Film Awards Best Actor categories, the statuette was born in 2000. The original statuette design consisted of a solid silver African mask set on an elongated neck held on a solid block of black stone. The statuette was so admired that it was decided by the festival co-founders, Charles Thompson and Menelik Shabazz that a similar statuette would also be presented to the honorary award winner of each festival.
In 2001 as a reflection of the increasing profile of the festival honorary award and to distinguish it from the bfm Short Film Awards performance category statuettes, a new design was commissioned from Fowokan, as he is affectionately known. The new design consisted of a solid bronzed mask on top of an elongated neck held within a solid block of white marble.
At an industry attended reception held at BAFTA HQ during the 3rd bfm Int. Film Festival 2001, this newly designed statuette was unveiled and the first of which was collected by Billy Dee Williams on behalf of his good friend and colleague. Harry Belafonte with a second statuette presented to veteran British actor Earl Cameron, the UK’s most successful black British actor.
The following year 2002, a new Awards event was developed, the bfm Film & TV Awards, which was to make history by becoming the first full celebration of the annual achievements made by black British film & television professionals and their Diaspora peers. To reflect on the revised nature of the bfm Awards, another design was commissioned to take the newly created bfm Film & TV Awards well into the next decade. The new design which would also be used for the bfm Short Film Awards was a more contemporary working of the original design set, but this time with no elongated neck and the mask statuette sitting on top a solid black granite block with neck hidden within the granite block making the mask appear to be balancing on the granite block.
The statuette for the bfm Short Film Awards remains exactly the same, in the form struck in 2002, and this particular statuette is most highly prized, being part of the longest running competitive black film event to have taken place in the UK. Sadly the bfm Short Film Awards no longer take place as the bfm Int. Film Festival held its final edition in the winter of 2009 after 10 glorious years.
During this time in early 2003, after a hugely successful and historic Awards night in October of the previous year, a decision was made by Charles Thompson, then Festival co-founder and then Director, and visionary creator of both the bfm Awards, to leave the festival and establish the Awards ceremony under a separate banner.
By this time after only one edition, the bfm Awards had earned the tag of the ‘Black Bafta’s’, a nickname given it by The Independent Newspaper as a reflection of the status the event had established for itself in the British awards calendar. The nickname has stuck ever since, despite the Awards being renamed the Screen Nation Film & Television Awards.
For 4 years between 2003 and 2006, the design of the statuette remained the same, but a contention ensued between bfm and Screen Nation as to the original copyright ownership of the Awards, despite the fact that Screen Nation had purchased the copyright of the 2002 design in good faith from the original sculptor, Fowokan George Kelly. Finally as a precursor to the 5th celebration of the Screen Nation Awards in 2007 and to end any future contention, the statuette was further redesigned by Screen Nation with the full knowledge of the original sculptor, but this time by a design team at Artem, one of the UK’s leading production design companies.
The new design was actually enforced if truth be told as it had been discovered over the years since the first 2002 statuette had been presented that the design though beautiful and well crafted had an inherent fault which was only revealed by constant handling. It was to correct this fault and remove any doubt about copyright ownership that the new design incorporated the return of a neck for the mask, but this time hidden behind it rather than underneath it within the stone, thereby giving added strength to the weak point in the original design. The placement of the mask still made it appear as if was balancing on the granite block, but now the features of the mask were smoothed out which moved the look of the mask from that of a definitive female look to one that was more androgynous.
This redesign, the 3rd in a decade, remains in use today and is the highly prized possession of a select number of the leading black British and international screen talent working today.
Whichever statuette design has been presented over the years or will be into the future, we are assured that the winners will cherish the reward and recognition bestowed to them by their peers and the audiences of their work and will hold the African mask statuette in high esteem as a token of their sacrifice, hard work and incredible contribution to the global film & television industry.