In the tradition of ‘when they don’t bring you flowers you think you deserve, grow them yourself,” the NAACP created the NAACP National Image Awards back in 1967, and through many small and very big bumps, it is still here. The awards and the annual show to highlight the winners, was created in California (Willis Edwards, Maggie Hathaway and Sammy Davis, Jr., as the first producers, with the BeverlyHills-Hollywood branch of the NAACP), and the production continues to be organized and broadcasted in Southern California (usually, but not always, at the Pasadena Playhouse).
Most people, and all artists (of whatever stripe), need some encouragement and some amount of complimenting during their careers. America was not in the business of doing much high altitude artistic complimenting of African-American artists through the 1960’s (although there were thousands of Americans who made millions managing and selling Black talent), and according to many a commentator, still isn’t. The top awards for the “best” artistic performances and literary achievement still rarely go to Black artists and performers in modern society. So, there is still space and much rationale for continuing shows like the Image Awards.
The 53rd NAACP Image Awards was hosted and shown live this year (though without a live audience) by Black Entertainment Network (BET), and still may be re-played by a regular channel network (Fox or NBC) in the coming weeks. Both BET and the Image Awards have both handled more than their fair share of enmity and controversy over the years. BET was the first billion dollar Black-owned company in the U.S. and was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in the 1990s. Then John Johnson, its founder, sold the giant company to an even bigger entity, VIACOM, and the expectations were severe that he had sold out the Black community just to make a buck (the company was sold for nearly $3 billion dollars, making Johnson the first African-American billionaire). But the proliferation of BET into Black Jazz, Black Gospel, BET Hip-Hop, BET Jams, VH 1 Soul, and other permutations after that sale have proved those initial doomsday predictions wrong. And BET is still expanding.
The Image awards have been criticized for showcasing performers indicted for child rapes and assaults, and performers who ostensibly disrespected Black cultural icons, among other things. Cedric the Entertainer, for example, who has both hosted the awards and been an awardee, never did apologize (to her or to the public at large) for his film ad libs that criticized and belittled Rosa Parks, Jesse Jackson and Dr. ML King. The Image Awards has also been repeatedly castigated for promoting misogynistic, vulgar and bad image artists as heroes and sheroes in the community.
Still and all, BET and the NAACP Image Awards prevail, and those earning the awards have usually seemed extremely grateful to have been chosen. That was very evident this year as best actress winner Jennifer Hudson (for biopic, “Respect”), and also the winner of the Entertainer of the Year award, was effusive in her gratitude to the Image Awards committee for choosing her. Other winners—like Will Smith, as Best Actor for “King Richard’’, Samuel L. Jackson (the Chairman’s Award), who is by the way the highest paid actor in Hollywood, Angela Bassett, Sterling K. Brown (“This Is Us”), Issa Rae (“Insecure”), and Anthony Anderson (“Black-ish”) and best picture, “The Harder They Fall,” starring Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, and Regina King, all seemed to heartily enjoy their accolades.
Congrats to them all. All hail to Black artists and performers !!!!
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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