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Image Awards not only about Black honors


A recognition of American contributions

With awards season in full swing, the NAACP celebrates the 55th annual Image Award ceremony on March 16 with A-list celebrities attending the event for different reasons. The Image Awards was first televised on Aug. 13, 1987, featuring activists Maggie Hathaway, Sammy Davis Jr., and Willis Edwards, who at the time were affiliated with the Beverly Hills-Hollywood branch of the NAACP. The Image Awards was created in 1967, 20 years before its live broadcast debut. 

The Image Awards have had a tumultuous relationship with Hollywood and the African-American community–and how Black persons were viewed within the entertainment industry as a whole. In 1987 and again in 1990, organizers of the show opted to drop the Best Actress award citing a lack of meaningful roles for Black women. This drew outrage from the Black community as this was their fourth time having issues since the inception. Other issues board members of the NAACP cited was that nominees were perceived as “undeserving” or “unworthy” of NAACP recognition by media, fellow celebrities, and the general public. Some NAACP representatives stated that the overall quality of an artist's work was the salient issue. 

This was shown in 1994 when Tupac Shakar was nominated for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture for his lead role in the film “Poetic Justice,” despite his an alleged criminal background and sexual assault charges that were filed against him in December 1993. Similarly, Martin Lawrence was criticized for winning Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series and Outstanding Comedy Series for the ‘90s TV comedy “Martin” after the show was criticized for its sexual content. In 2004, R. Kelly’s “Chocolate Factory” was nominated for Outstanding Album, while he was under indictment for charges related to child pornography. 

Presently, a revamp of sorts is underway at the Image Awards. There has been a revitalization among the audience for the annual ceremony and its importance and impact on the culture.

“This is part of our legacy, it’s for us by us, and it’s important we continue to support one another because there was a time when we weren’t recognized by Hollywood and didn’t have the type of impact and the lead way we have now,” Karen Boykin-Towns, vice chair of the NAACP National Board of Directors, said as she spoke on the journey of the award ceremony. “There was a time when our celebrities didn’t prioritize our award show, and they didn’t come. You were lucky if the nominees in certain categories would even show up to accept their award, and now I’m pleased to say that is no longer the case.” 

Boykin-Towns continued highlighting how prosperous the award show has become, stating that it’s a “Rich Asset,” and the results prove the show is trending upward. Last year, the award show set a record in viewership from recent memory, garnering over 2.9 million views, a 72% increase from the 2022 show. They were also the number one social Prime program on cable last year. 

Boykin-Towns pointed to the change of approach as why viewership increased and hopes to see better results this year. “ We took the social media route to announce our nominees for popular categories by having social media influencers do it on their page.” Boykin-Towns said as she spoke about gaining and keeping the attention of Black people. “The award show is inclusive to all communities, but the Black communities’ attention is paramount for the award show to be successful. It is important to have our people tuned in because if we’re not watching, then how are we going to be successful, what’s the point of the show then.” 

The Image Awards growth from covering a few categories; to now covering a wide spectrum of different fields within the entertainment industry has helped expand their categories for the show “We as a community gotta understand we don’t look the same, talk the same, or come from the same upbringing, but we all deserve the opportunity to be seen and heard.” Boykin-Towns said, speaking about the eight new categories added to this year’s award show. The categories added to the award ceremony are Motion Picture: Outstanding Youth Performance, Outstanding Cinematography in a Motion Picture, Outstanding Short Form Documentary Recording, Outstanding Original Score for TV/film: Podcast: Outstanding Scripted Series Podcast, Outstanding Limited Series/Short Form podcast: Literature: Outstanding graphic novel: Stunt and Outstanding stunt ensemble.