Jay Ellis at the 2018 American Black Film Festival
Jay Ellis at the 2018 American Black Film Festival


Jay Ellis Is Ready for the Next Generation of Filmmakers

By Olivia Armstrong

This year’s American Black Film Festival ambassador shares why he feels a personal connection to the annual event.


Jay Ellis is ready to get to work. At the 2018 American Black Film Festival (ABFF), the Insecure actor wants to do all he can to elevate the stories being told.

“It’s something I take pride in doing, and it happens to be a lot of fun,” explains the newly-named ambassador of Miami-based event, which has spent more than two decades spotlighting diverse narratives. When the opportunity to participate was presented, Ellis recalls replying immediately: “Hell yes.”

Ellis sees ABFF as a family, with values akin to his own upbringing. “A lot of the experiences I’ve had in life are because someone decided to give back.” Ellis credits his teachers, volunteer basketball coaches, as well as his parents — his father, an Air Force veteran and his mother, a corporate executive — all of whom donated their time and services to their community. “I wouldn’t be here without those role models,” he said. Empowering others is “the fabric of American life, especially black culture.” Says Ellis, “It’s just who we are.”

The actor is particularly excited about this year’s ABFF Short Film Competition, an annual showcase of up-and-coming directors, writers and production talent. Only five pieces are selected from the hundreds of submissions that come in. In addition to serving as a platform for filmmakers like Black Panther director Ryan Coogler (whose short, FIG, won the grand prize at the festival in 2011), the competition — regardless of who wins — gives all finalists the opportunity to have their films featured on HBO and streaming services HBO NOW and HBO GO.

“Storytelling is always evolving but if you allow people with new voices and perspectives to come in, you open audiences up to different walks of life,” said Ellis. “Plus, there will come a time in my career when I will need jobs,” he added with a laugh, “and I’m going to call on these filmmakers.”

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