Was Gabourey Sidibe, the star of “Precious,” cheated out of a movie award?

That’s what insiders from the African-American Film Critics Association are telling me. They say Sidibe was intentionally cheated out of a Best Actress citation at the AAFCA’s annual event Dec. 14, the same night “Precious” took home a raft of other honors including Best Picture, Best Director, Supporting Actress and Screenplay.

Sidibe lost in the Best Actress category to Nicole Beharie, star of the little known and mostly unseen Samuel Goldwyn Company release,’ “American Violet.”

According to the final ballot, which I’ve seen, Sidibe received eight first-place votes from the 16 critics who participated. Beharie got four first-place finishes, and the rest went to Anika Noni Rose (two votes) and one each for Helen Mirren and Zooey Deschanel. Among second-place finishers, Sidibe got five votes; Beharie got one.

Critics of the AAFCA co-founder Gil Robertson IV claim that he manipulated the final tally to please the producers of “American Violet.” Since then, the awards group has succumbed to massive infighting.

Reached by phone Tuesday morning for comment, Robertson claimed that I was in possession of an incomplete ballot. ‘”There are 22 members of the AAFCA,” he said. “You obviously have an incomplete ballot.”

But internal AAFCA emails, which I’ve seen, allude to payments from studios and outside influence affecting the choices of winners. There’s a movement afoot to oust Robertson as well.’ AAFCA president’Wilson Morales wrote to him in an email obtained by this column:

“As you know your recent actions have been called into question because of a series of choices you made without the approval of the founding members of the group, including myself…Our collective view is that an organization that gives out awards should be ethical and not subjected to bias based on donations from outside sources, and if that at some point comes into conflict with some of our additional goals to curry favor with the studios and get major press coverage or a broadcast deal.”

Robertson also says he never received a letter from Morales, even though I read him the reply he sent. Says Robertson, “Wilson and I are having personal issues.”

The AAFCA’s other awards went to Morgan Freeman (”Invictus“), Anthony Mackie (”The Hurt Locker“) and, of course, Mo’Nique (”Precious”). Michael Jackson was given an honorary citation. The group also listed as its best movies “Up in the Air,” “Up,” “Good Hair,” “The Hurt Locker,” “American Violet,” and two indie films that are worth checking out: “Goodbye Solo,” and “Medicine for Melancholy.”

But the Sidibe issue is just the latest in a long line of strange things that have gone on with “Precious” since it advanced into awards season. First of all, ‘Mo’Nique caused a stir by demanding money for appearances. She did little publicity despite universal acclaim for her performance. The National Board of Review all but ignored the film. Oscar voters are just getting to see “Precious” now over the holidays. Luckily most of them will not have heard of these various contretemps.

As for Sidibe,’she’s guaranteed an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. That should take the sting out of all this pettiness.

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Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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