Jussie Smollett Debuts Movie, Denzel Washington Hints at Acting Break 5

Jussie Smollett declared he was weary of trying to explain away his past troubles while Denzel Washington foreshadowed an impending break from being in front of the camera during the just-wrapped American Black Film Festival, which also brought out stars including Issa Rae, Kenya Barris and Kerry Washington.

The festival, held in Miami Beach’s South Beach, served as a launching pad for ABFF’s Queer Lens Brunch with GLAAD, featuring Smollett on a panel promoting his second feature, The Lost Holliday, an official festival selection that he co-wrote, produced and directed. It stars Smollett as a man whose husband is killed just as the couple was adopting their daughter; he must also contend with the mother-in-law he never met, played by Vivica A. Fox. 

“It means a great deal to have the love and support of my queer Black community and equally to have the love and support of the Black community as a whole,” Smollett, joined by his The Lost Holliday co-star Jabari Redd (The Chi), told The Hollywood Reporter after the brunch.

The former Empire star, who is still appealing a jail sentence after being convicted of five felonies for staging a racist, homophobic attack on himself, found a reprieve from his ongoing legal battles at the event. Instead, producer and director Sidra Smith, who moderated the panel, referenced his “perseverance” and mental health, to which he responded, in part: “Sometimes you just gotta bite the bullet and let everybody think that you’re crazy, that you’re shady, that you’re a fraud, whatever they’re going to think. And then they’ll figure it out. They’ll figure it out because I can’t sit here forever trying to explain.”

He was not silent on Black queer representation, however. “There are so many other things on the opposite side that are intentionally trying to devalue us so we must be intentional with our Blackness; we must be intentional with our queerness; we must be intentional with our Black queerness,” he said, explaining his fervent activism.

On the festival’s closing day, Washington was the subject of a retrospective, culminating with a conversation between the double Oscar winner and Chaz Ebert. 

Washington stars in Gladiator 2 with Paul Mescal, set for release in November, and is also producing The Piano Lesson, which will feature John David Washington in front of the camera and his other son, Malcolm Washington, behind it as director. Daughter Katia is a producer on the film, which also features a cameo from daughter Olivia. Samuel L. Jackson, Corey Hawkins and Danielle Deadwyler also star.

Washington, who placed a pre-Father’s Day FaceTime call to wife Pauletta during the talk, briefly got emotional when he talked about working with his children.

“As a parent, as a father, you want to jump in,” he confessed. “It’s hard letting them go.”

Washington also shared that he doesn’t watch other movies besides his own, and even those he watches just once to familiarize himself for interviews. However, the audience let out the biggest gasp when he suggested people could be seeing him less onscreen in the near future.

“The things that are going on for me professionally behind the camera are as important to me now as in front of the camera. I think there’s less and less time I’ll be spending in front of the camera,” he said.

Meanwhile, Rae, who served as the creative director of this year’s festival, kicked off this edition of the event, which spanned June 12-16. In her remarks, she emphasized the importance of community at ABFF and testified to how it had helped her in her own career early on and why, in the face of attacks on diversity, it’s more important than ever.

“I met so many of my creative partnerships here. This is the space to do it, especially now that our spaces are being taken away from us,” she added, referencing the recent DEI rollbacks in the industry and the nation at large. 

Also during the event, Rae led a talk with Barris, while Kerry Washington showcased the upcoming season of her Hulu show Unprisioned. Meagan Good and Cory Hardrict shared a first-look and discussed their starring roles in Tyler Perry’s Divorce in the Black for Amazon Prime. 

Films from the festival are screening on streaming platform ABFF Play until Monday.

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