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Amid Questions Over Hollywood Inclusion, NAACP Image Awards Show Why Their Presence is Important to Celebrate Black Talent

With #OscarsSoWhite overshadowing awards season this year, the 47th Annual NAACP Image Awards had a bigger spotlight on it than usual. The show was being championed as a vindicator for the two films, Creed and Straight Outta Compton, Hollywood left out of its biggest party, on top of being an overall celebration of a fantastic year for Black entertainment.

The show got off to a rousing start with host Anthony Anderson performing a parody of N.W.A’s “Straight Outta Compton.”  His group, Nominees With Attitude, pointed out several Academy snubs and attacked mainstream awards shows’ lack of recognition of Black talent.  During his opening monologue, Anderson stated, “Look at all of these beautiful shades of people in the audience.  Hollywood needs to know that this is what diversity is supposed to look like.”

Noticing Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith in the audience, Anderson jested,“They better be here after all this ish they started!”

Pinkett Smith was one of the first people to turn the lack of diversity at the Academy Awards into the paramount issue during this year’s award’s season.

Creed and Straight Outta Compton both walked away with their fair share of laurels. Creed took home four awards: Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture (Michael B. Jordan), Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture (Phylicia Rashad), Outstanding Director in a Motion Picture (Ryan Coogler) and Outstanding Writing In a Motion Picture.   Jordan won twice, also taking home the show’s top prize, Entertainer of the Year.

Upon accepting his award, Jordan reminisced, “I used to sneak into the Image Awards, and now I’m standing here as the entertainer of the year, which is mind-blowing.”

Straight Outta Compton was awarded Outstanding Motion Picture, and O’Shea Jackson Jr. won Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture.

“I want to thank the NAACP for this because without you riding for us for the last 100 years, we would not be standing here,” Straight Outta Compton director F. Gary Gray stated during his acceptance speech.

Singer/activist John Legend was awarded the NAACP’s President’s Award for his humanitarian efforts to uplift communities steeped in poverty through education initiatives such as the Show Me Campaign and a partnership with the NAACP in promoting voting rights and social reform.

“Some will call you a radical for calling for justice for all.  Some will call you ‘the real racist’ for daring to call out racial inequality,” Legend said in his speech. “Fighting for justice isn’t an act of hate — it’s an act of love.”

On the television side, host Anthony Anderson and his television wife Tracee Ellis Ross took home Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series and Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series, respectively, for black-ishEmpire took command of the top prizes on the drama side.  Upon ascending the stage to accept her trophy for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series, Taraji P. Henson gave one of the most poignant statements of the night: “We don’t need to ask for acceptance from anyone.  We are enough, we’ve been enough and we always will be enough.”

After the show, many prominent entertainers were asked questions about diversity, with differing perspectives.  Empire co-creator Lee Daniels told The Hollywood Reporter that when it comes to opportunities for people of color in entertainment, “We need the opportunity… the Oscars are secondary.  I’ve always made my opportunity… I don’t wait for people to give it to me.”

On the other side, Sanaa Lathan, who won Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture for The Perfect Guy, told The Hollywood Reporter, “The Oscar controversy is great because it’s giving light to something we’ve known all along.  I’ve been in this business for 20 years, and that’s the reality of being a person of color in Hollywood.  For me, I’m excited that the rest of the world is going to know what’s going on and there will be some change.”

While NAACP Image Awards have gotten more attention this year than in the past because of mainstream questions over diversity, NAACP President Cornell William Brooks said the Image Awards “are more important than ever before … it’s not about who ignores us … But how we recognize ourselves.”

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