PASADENA — Black Hollywood’s biggest night, largely intended to celebrate the achievements of African-Americans in film, music and the arts, took a decidedly political edge this year as several celebrities lobbed jabs at the Oscars for snubs of African-American artists and their work.
As usual, this year’s NAACP Image Awards ceremony saluted black actors, performers, writers and directors for their stellar work in literature and performing arts, but not without commenting – early and often – about the shortage of black nominees for the Academy Awards, which airs Feb. 22.
Image Awards host Anthony Anderson, the “black-ish” star whose ABC sitcom earned an Image award, opened the night with a jab at the Academy Awards, which this year has an all-white slate of acting nominees.
“People are up in arms because they feel the other award shows have snubbed us. So what. We’ve got our own show, right?” Anderson said to spirited applause. He then launched into a number that included the lyrics: “Writing, directing, no respect from this city,” and a refrain, “Forget the Oscars, hallelujah,” the Emmys and Golden Globes.
Filmmaker Spike Lee – who received the NAACP President’s Award honoring career success and public service – also took a swipe at the Oscars in his acceptance speech.
“This stuff is rigged. It’s not set up for us to win. It’s always been like that. Since we were stolen from mother Africa… [But] we always find a way to make a way,” he said, lifting his trophy.
The lightning rod for most of the resentment toward the Oscars was the critically acclaimed, “Selma,” which was nominated for best picture and best song for the Oscars, but failed to garner bids in all other Oscar categories.
The civil rights drama won top honors at the NAACP Image Awards, however, and was saluted as an important historical film.
“This is more than a movie,” media mogul Oprah Winfrey, who was a “Selma” producer and actor, said in accepting the trophy for outstanding motion picture. “It’s important that we all know who we are so we know where we’re going, and claiming the glory.”
“Selma,” which dramatizes events surrounding the 1965 Alabama voting rights marches led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., also captured best actor honors for David Oyelowo, who played King.
“I want to take this opportunity to say I thank the Lord I was able to play one of the most transcendent human beings who ever walked the planet,” Oyelowo said.
Actress Taraji P. Henson was named best actress in a movie for “No Good Deed” and entertainer of the year. Henson, also stars in the new Fox-TV hit “Empire.”
Anderson won the TV award for best comedy series actor for “black-ish,” which also was honored as best comedy series and captured a best actress trophy for Tracee Ellis Ross.
“To be able to do show about raising our black families every day is a blessing,” said “black-ish” creator and producer Kenya Barris.
“How to Get Away with Murder” was named best drama series, with star Viola Davis named best actress in a drama. “Criminal Minds” star Shemar Moore was named best actor in a drama series.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the first African-American to hold that office, accepted the NAACP Chairman’s Award honoring distinguished public service.
He said he was honored to carry on the Justice Department’s legacy that included ensuring “the most sacred of American rights, the right to vote.” Holder, who is leaving the job after six years, called on the nation to “reject the forces of hate and division.”
Veteran music industry executive Clive Davis, who nurtured the careers of several artists including Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin and Alicia Keys, received the Vanguard Award, which recognizes work that increases understanding of racial and social issues.
Davis said he realized early in his career that African-Americans were being “pigeon-holed” as R&B artists and losing out on financial and career opportunities because of that. He said he was proud to be honored for his efforts to help black artists reach their full potential.