The American Film Institute celebrated the commencement of the AFI Conservatory Class of 2023 at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. At the ceremony, AFI President and CEO Bob Gazzale welcomed the honored guests, graduates, friends and family to the historic theatre, and spoke about the imperative role of storytellers in uncertain times The celebration also included speeches from AFI Honorary Degree recipients Ernest R. Dickerson and Gina Prince-Bythewood, who were both honored with a Doctorate of Fine Arts degree honoris causa for contributions of distinction to the art of the moving image.
“AFI Honorary Degrees celebrate an ideal – a standard to which graduates may aspire,” said Gazzale. “It is AFI’s honor to shine a spotlight on the artistry of Ernest Dickerson and Gina Prince-Bythewood before the storytellers of tomorrow.”
Addressing the audience and graduates, Prince-Bythewood said, “What we do is so powerful. Film can change perspective, it can shift culture, it can change minds.” Speaking about artists’ responsibility to portray reality as it should be, she reminded the filmmakers, “You have the power to [see the world better] with your pen, with your camera, with your choices.”
In his speech, Dickerson spoke about his lifelong love affair with cinema and wished the same for the filmmakers, encouraging the graduates to tell stories of the human experiences, past, present and future. He said, “The most important thing it has taught me is that we are all storytellers.”
Dickerson and Prince-Bythewood join an esteemed group of distinguished past recipients, including Robert Altman, Maya Angelou, Saul Bass, Angela Bassett, Kathryn Bigelow, Mel Brooks, Carol Burnett, Anne V. Coates, Clint Eastwood, Roger Ebert, Nora Ephron, Jodie Foster, Lesli Linka Glatter, Lawrence Herbert, James Earl Jones, Lawrence Kasdan, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Angela Lansbury, Spike Lee, David Lynch, Helen Mirren, Rita Moreno, Paul Schrader, Quentin Tarantino, Lily Tomlin, Robert Towne, Cicely Tyson, Haskell Wexler, John Williams and Michelle Yeoh.
About the Honorary Degree Recipients
Ernest R. Dickerson
Ernest R. Dickerson is an Emmy®, Peabody, and two-time Image Award-winning film and television veteran. Dickerson earned his undergraduate degree from Howard University, after which he attended New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and met filmmaker Spike Lee. The first film he photographed was BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET and later collaborated with Lee as Director of Photography on such classic films as SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT, SCHOOL DAZE, DO THE RIGHT THING, MO’ BETTER BLUES and MALCOLM X.
Dickerson’s feature directorial debut which he also co-wrote was JUICE, and he went on to direct the feature films SURVIVING THE GAME, TALES FROM THE CRYPT: DEMON KNIGHT, BONES and NEVER DIE ALONE. His work has also been showcased in some of the top television shows of the past decade, including hit series like THE WIRE, THE WALKING DEAD, TREME, DEXTER, HEROES and many others. Dickerson’s most recent television credits include the 2022 premiere of HBO’s RAISED BY WOLVES; DMZ on HBO Max and INTERROGATION on Paramount+, serving as Executive Producer on both; Amazon’s BOSCH and THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE; Netflix’s HOUSE OF CARDS; and Seven Seconds and Epix’s hit series GODFATHER OF HARLEM. Dickerson’s independent feature, DOUBLE PLAY, based on the internationally acclaimed Frank Martinus Arion novel and filmed on the island of Curacao, was released on streaming platforms in early 2022.
Gina Prince-Bythewood, an award-winning director/writer/producer known for her authentic character-driven work in film and television, has written and directed such influential feature films as LOVE & BASKETBALL, THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES and BEYOND THE LIGHTS.
Prince-Bythewood most recently directed the critically acclaimed epic feature film, THE WOMAN KING, which earned Prince-Bythewood a BAFTA nomination for Best Director, the Filmmaker Tribute at the Gotham Awards, an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture, among other accolades. Prior, Prince-Bythewood directed the critically acclaimed action drama blockbuster film, THE OLD GUARD, starring Charlize Theron and Kiki Layne. For television, Prince-Bythewood most recently directed the pilot and served as an Executive Producer of the limited series WOMEN OF THE MOVEMENT. Other recent credits for Prince-Bythewood include SHOTS FIRED, which she and her husband Reggie Rock Bythewood served as Series Co-Creators and Executive Producers.
As a longtime advocate for equal representation in film and television on-screen and behind-the-scenes, Prince-Bythewood has championed many emerging writers and directors as well as funding a scholarship for African American students in the film program at UCLA, her alma mater.