As I tuned in to watch the red carpet for last night’s (January 15) 49th NAACP Image Awards, I got a quick flashback to last year’s show, when I was actually there in the flesh. I smiled as I remembered being so overwhelmed with the fact that I was surrounded by the biggest and brightest Black and brown stars in the world! They were everywhere! Seeing it on television was one thing, but being in the midst of all the chaos was an entirely different machine. I was tapped as a red carpet correspondent, and my co-hosts and I literally had to divide up the talent to interview as many people as we could. With producers giving us orders in our ears, fans screaming at every celeb spotting, and nothing but talent as far as the eye could see, I remember saying to myself, “This is because the Image Awards always gets it right.”
As far back as I can remember, the Image Awards has done an amazing job of recognizing the best shows, movies, and talent in Black. But for years, it seemed like the show was an afterthought for many, as some winners failed to even show up to the live broadcast. I remember watching year after year as our faves showed up for the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, and Academy Awards, only to leave upset and empty-handed, but skipped out on the Image Awards, where they actually won big. I personally couldn’t understand how they could put so much energy into these white male dominated machines, when the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was created for us, to ensure our advancement, promote and reward our talents, and fight for our right to be put on the pedestals we rightfully earned. How could we skip out on an awards show that was literally created for us?
Sometimes, we just need a soft reminder that what we are looking for can be right in front of our faces.
And that soft reminder came in 2016, when for the second year in a row, all 20 actors nominated in the lead and supporting acting categories at the Academy Awards were white. In response to those omissions, BroadwayBlack.com managing editor April Reign created the trending Twitter hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. This created a Black Twitter-led ripple effect across social media that included the likes of Spike Lee, Will Smith, and Jada Pinkett Smith boycotting the Oscars due to its lack of diversity.
But what were we really mad about? In the Academy Awards’ 88-year history, only 14 Black actors have won acting Oscars! So were we mad at them for continuing to ignore our talent? Or were we mad that they weren’t letting us in?
Mind you, that year, the Oscars shut out Creed (whose star Michael B. Jordan won outstanding actor in a motion picture and entertainer of the year at the Image Awards) and Straight Outta Compton (which won best motion picture at that year’s Image Awards). This was similar to the year before when the Oscars shut out Selma, which picked up four trophies at that year’s Image Awards. And in 2014, the Oscars ignored Fruitvale Station (that year’s Independent Motion Picture winner) and The Butler, which picked up two trophies that year. Get where I’m going?
Year after year, the NAACP Image Awards goes above and beyond to highlight the best shows, movies, and talent in Black culture. And each year, it gets it absolutely right. There’s no real difference between what happened last night than what happens every year, except for the fact that we are no longer seeking validation from the outside and embracing our rightful thrones from the inside.
Kudos to The Image Awards for another job well done, and shout out to all the superstars who made it a priority to make our night one of the biggest of the award season.