Why the NAACP Image Awards matter

Radio mogul Cathy Hughes (left), actor Brian White and actress Penny Johnson. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

PASADENA, CA-There’s power in the conquer and divide theory. But only if you give it life. The NAACP Image Awards has its hands full in the competition category during the month of February. The month of February is a celebration of Black History Month. In recent years, with so many large-scaled entertainment and sports events, the celebration has been muted.

That hasn’t stopped the NAACP from moving its signature show forward.

“Underground” leading man Aldis Hodge (right) looks pretty dapper with that bow-tie at the 48th Annual NAACP Image Awards on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

Vying for the consumer attention, the NAACP Image Awards has been challenged mightily for that audience rating pie. When you consider the NAACP Image Awards, which annually pays homage to African Americans and people of color in the entertainment industry and other professional fields, you think of honoring cultural achievements. 

For all of the coalition wins and for all of the judicial or court victories ( Brown vs. Board of Education) it has notched under its belt, the NAACP’s biggest claim to fame is fighting for the underdog. The NAACP Image Awards is reflective of that mission even though others try to barge in on its terrority and try to take away its thunder.   

“Underground” star Jurnee Smollett Bell (left) and brother Jussie Smollett (Empire) on the red carpet of the 48th Annual NAACP Image Awards on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

But when you have the NFL Super Bowl) invading your space, the NBA (All-Star Weekend) trying to find its niche in the middle of things, the GRAMMY Awards and the Academy Awards holding down key weekend spots in February, the NAACP Image Awards is kind of squeezed in the middle of all of this entertainment smorgasbord.

That’s not even counting the numerous and prominent film festivals taking place everywhere.

It kind of feels like the NAACP Image Awards is slowly being put out to pasture to die by relentless and unforeseen forces. With so many entities in the Los Angeles market competing for people’s undivided attention, the NAACP Image Awards has had to re-invent the wheel to corner its niche audience. 

So far, the changes are for the better. That is why it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

The lovely Anika Noni Rose (The Quad) makes her way to the 48th Annual NAACP Image Awards non-televised event on Friday, Feb. 10, 2017. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

Black achievement has not always been receptive in mainstream as it is today. Much like the history of its justice, social and civil rights arms, the NAACP Image Awards stand in the corner of the oftentimes non-celebrated overlooked individuals. Even well-known celebrities and high-profile individuals that are of color can feel the sting of the snub.

The whitewash of the Academy Awards of people of color from its nominations list a couple of years ago, illustrates the fact that change has not come far enough or fast enough. This is where the NAACP Image Awards steps in and replaces that void for African Americans and people of color.

The cast members of “The Real” on the red carpet of the 48th Annual NAACP Image Awards on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

The 48th Annual NAACP Image Awards, held at the Pasadena Civic Center in Pasadena, California, gave as much love to “The Book of Harlan” author Bernice L. McFadden (Outstanding Literary Work-Fiction) as it did with honoring Denzel Washington (Outstanding Male Actor in a Motion Picture-Fences). “Queen Sugar” (Outstanding Drama Series) received just about as many accolades as the cast members from “Hidden Figures (Outstanding Motion Picture).  

The shocked look of Sterling K. Brown after he heard the announcement that he had won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series was priceless. But was it more surprising that Brown had beat out “Empire” star Terrence Howard or that Ava DuVernay’s “13th” picking up the NAACP Image Award in the Outstanding Documentary category?                       

“Underground” star Amirah Vann pose for the camera at the 48th Annual NAACP Image Awards on Friday, Feb. 10, 2017. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

The beauty of the NAACP Image Awards is not being regulated just to accommodate celebrities and their theatrical work. Probing through the 56 awards categories you can see the diversity of arenas that the NAACP does work in. Literary works, the music genre and sports are all represented.

And just in case you forget, the NAACP Image Awards always comes through with carefully selected individuals who best embodies the pulse of the civil rights organization with the NAACP Chairman’s Award (Harvard Law Professor Charles J. Ogletree) and NAACP President’s Award (Lonnie G. Bunch III).

“Luke Cage” star Michael Colter (right) steps out on the red carpet at the 48th Annual NAACP Image Awards with his wife, Iva. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

Being the 2017 recipients of the NAACP Chairman’s Award and the NAACP President’s Award, both Ogletree and Bunch are known for their social work. Bunch, a noted historian, is the founding director of the Smithsonian’s Natural Museum of African American History and Culture. Ogletree is a civil rights giant who uses literacy (books) and the law to reach for equality and fairness.

Now, getting back to the fun part of the 2017 NAACP Image Awards, there were plenty of star-gazing going on during the two-day spectacle. Among those who showed their faces on the red carpet and sat in on the awards show were:           

Keesha Sharp (right), the star of “Lethal Weapon” is fabulous on the red carpet of the 48th Annual NAACP Image Awards on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

Taraji P. Henson, Denzel Washington, Dwayne Johnson, Kerry Washington, Tracee Ellis Ross, Nate Parker, Niecy Nash, Omari Hardwick, Regina King, Mandy Moore, John Legend, Terrence Howard, Angela Bassett, Sterling K. Brown, Octavia Spencer, Trevor Noah, Janelle Monae, Issa Rae, Mike Colter, Mykelti Williamson, Adam Rodriguez, Rashida Jones, Bill Paxton, Brian White, Deon Cole, Jussie Smollett, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Justin Cornwell, Nick Kroll, Penny Johnson, Pooch Hall, Don Cheadle, Keesha Sharp, Andra Day, Kofi Siriboe, Rutina Wesley, Stephan James, Tika Sumpter and Uzo Aduba.           

Those were just some of the names to make it to the televised part of the show. The name-dropping list was just as long, if not longer, for the non-televised telecast. Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Anika Noni Rose and Donnie McClurkin were just some of the individuals to brave the driving rain and attend the opening day ceremony.

With the derelict of neglect over the importance and recognition of African American accomplishments over the past several years, the need or the thirst for a show like the NAACP Image Awards, has grown.

High-profile police brutality cases (Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Philando Castile) and civil unrest (Baltimore, Ferguson) has ignited a sense of black pride in this country that has largely been absent in the wake of the rise of this day’s millennials. This is why the quiet urgency for the NAACP and the NAACP Image Awards to be that voice for people of color is needed more than ever before.          

Dennis J. Freeman
About Dennis J. Freeman 1083 Articles
Dennis covers the NFL (San Diego Chargers), NBA (Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers), Major League Baseball (Los Angeles Dodgers) and NCAA sports (USC, UCLA, Long Beach State). As a professional journalist, Dennis has also covered and written on topics such as civil rights, politics and social justice. Dennis is a graduate of Howard University.