NAACP Image Awards: What Happened To You?

I love the NAACP Image Awards, I have always loved you.

And if you did not know, yes, the longstanding organization NAACP 
(National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) as had an annual awards show celebrating and recognizing minorities for 
their achievement in the arts.

Basically, I have always considered the Image Awards to be the Oscars/Emmys/Golden Globes all wrapped in one to recognize the creative excellence of minorities; you know, something that can be so overlooked in those other shows. And you know why I put it on that same level of prestige? Because it felt like the Oscars/Emmys/Golden Globes all wrapped in one to recognize the creative excellence of minorities. It is a beautiful sight to see. So many entertainers of all colors just sitting around in the audience, talking to each other, presenting with each other or having inside jokes all the way from the stage to the audience. Everybody is dressed to the T (unlike some other minority-driven award shows), and because of the recognition the NAACP held, the ceremony felt of some nice rarified air intertwining the Outstanding Lead Actor and Actress awards with other awards and moments often highlighting many historical civil rights figures and social strides we sometimes are not all aware of.

Yet, for the past two years, something has been off. Something has not been as prestige and amazing as previous telecasts have always been. The dress code hasn’t changed, but something definitely has. Is it:

  • The collection of diversity in film and television has severely been limited? Although just last year there were nominees 12 Years A Slave, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, The Best Man Holiday among many others. 
  • Entertainers are not showing up as much as they used to? Eh, Halle Berry, Prince, Beyoncé and Oprah Winfrey have all been presenters/attendees in the last few ceremonies.
  • Or maybe, it could be that in 2013, the Image Awards had its last ceremony televised on a broadcast network (for the past nine years it was on NBC, before on FOX) after signing a five-year deal for the ceremony to be held on the limited-cable network TV One

Yeah, I’m a go with that last option.

I mean, do not get me wrong, I like TV One. I like that they are one of the few channels that you can still find re-runs of sitcom classics A Different World and Living Single and somewhat interesting original programming like Unsung. However, I think that is where it ends. In no way did I foresee a channel like TV One being able to keep up an awards show, especially one like the Image Awards. Maybe a re-run of the telecast, yeah that would have been good, but to take over the whole broadcast and show run of the ceremony? That’s a little much. I’ll give you the same exclamation I made when the news of this deal broke two years ago: WHAT THE HECK. Like whose decision was this? Were the Image Awards booted out, did they ask for this? Could their budget not handle a broadcast network anymore?

I just had so many questions that I could not find answers for.

Yet I had to go with the flow because I am just a viewer, and this was my show. And like a television show, or any trial period for something, I assumed the first year may be a little rough, but not much should change. But man, was I right to be concerned! I mean they had the likes of Oprah, Lupita Nyong’o, Naomie Harris, Idris Elba, all coming off such a great year of work, and this was the awards show they would all be together in one room. Yet, throughout the whole telecast there was no magic. No jazz. No yesssss. It was so mundane, I couldn’t believe it. My heart was hurt, it was such a letdown.

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Believe it or not, with the 46th Image Awards coming up this year, my hopes were still there. I thought good thoughts: last year was just the trial period, they got it this year. Especially with all the new shows and great films of last year, TV One would have to purposely try to make this telecast another rough one. I mean, I really do not want to be so critical, because there are only so many of these award shows left, but I find myself having to be critical because there are only so many of these award shows left! Yet my hopes seemed to slowly dim because from the moment I started my DVR on TV One’s Red Carpet Special for the Image Awards, I was already asking: NAACP Image Awards, what has happened to you?! 

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Let’s start there: the red carpet.

It was a small mess. I say small, because the red carpet was actually small. It almost seemed like one of those red carpets an event planner puts out for a club opening. The backdrop for pictures was drenched in advertisement from Ford to TV One to University of Phoenix. UNIVERSITY OF PHOENIX!? Like what?! Now let me not act that before this network switch, the Image Awards did not have advertisers, they were just subtle. Subtle as in a few mentions throughout the telecast, not in all caps down the red carpet and on the screen.

Now the mess part comes in the coverage in entirety. As correspondents, they had veterans Kevin Frazier and Shaun Robinson. Okay, I can roll with this. But then it seemed as if there was no traffic control of any kind as Frazier was setting up the telecast, it was like a mob of celebrities behind him. You could literally see in his face the information the producer was feeding him; but obviously not enough information because you know what really first set me off? Kevin finding Laurence Fishburne (nominated for black-ish) to interview and then totally disregarding Fishburne’s wife, Gina Torres, the whole time. Strike One. To understand why I am so upset, you must know that Frazier was raving about Fishburne’s new hit show and his work while all the while Gina Torres is rightfully on her own hit show and a favorite of mine, USA’s Suits. And she is not just on the show, but she is a lead character and has been since the beginning. Why she was not or has not been nominated for her work? That is a whole other story.

But really, it did not get any better from there. It was like Frazier and Robinson slowly started to morph into their own little awkward Ryan Seacrest and Guiliana Rancic hosting an E! Red Carpet. I started to fast forward. Angela Bassett was asked about her Whitney Lifetime movie by Shaun Robinson, leading to a good, yet somber statement about her concern and prayers for the Brown family, which after, Robinson nonchalantly ended the interview wishing Bassett a good time at the show. Yeah Shaun, she’s definitely going to have a good time now. And a tepid red carpet special would not be the same if there was not the weird exchange of “how did they look” fashion conclusion with b-roll (aka tape) of entertainers they are not talking about, to cover up the last few minutes before the live ceremony.

But hey, that was the red carpet. Maybe that production-what-the will not bleed over into the show.

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Hosted by blackish star and comedian, Anthony Anderson, the show seemed to lead off with a good start. Anderson took America’s current jam Uptown Funk and made it his own opening song, updating the bridge to something like “Forget the Oscars, Hallelujah, forget the Emmys, Hallelujah, Forget the Globes, Hallelujah, because here we’ll give it to you”. I was saying Woo. I was jamming. It was a little awkward when Anderson went into the audience singing a line about Oprah and she was not in her seat so he had to hug her seat card. Like Aunt O was going to walk down that carpet? It was not worthy. Still, the opening was a nice little ditty.

But Strike Two came around when Anderson’s monologue was not funny, at all. And this strike is for the writers in general, because Anthony Anderson is a funny guy, I really think he is. But you cannot go from joking about Kevin Hart to likening the film Selma to the Eric Garner case within seconds. How is someone supposed to shift emotions like that? Not easily, but awkwardly, which is exactly what the cameras and room caught.

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Now if you’re wondering what Strike Three is? Oh, strike three is a good one. Strike three came in the form of an epic camera mistake. Strike three occurred during the category of Leading Actor in a Drama Series when the winner was about to be announced and each nominee (who was in attendance) had a camera in their face, but the slot for nominee Omari Hardwick (Being Mary Jane) was filled by a love of my life, rapper/actor, a nominee and winner for his work in Selma, Common’s face.

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OH MY GOSH. WHAT A STRIKE THREE, RIGHT?! This would be horrible for any awards show, but when you are at an awards show recognizing your own people and you mistake your own people, that is just a nightmarish trifecta. Common seemed to embarrassed to care, fellow nominee Taye Diggs (Murder in the First) was getting a good laugh, and winner Shemar Moore (Criminal Minds) ultimately gave a weird speech. So this strike really goes to the direction, because they could have and should have easily caught this. Not to mention they should have just nixed the whole live shot nominee gallery that is shown when the winner is announced since it made it painfully clear that half of the nominees were not even there. They did that for like the first five categories, no one would have recognized if it kept going, but we all surely recognized this.

Still, even through the strikes, they were still able to muster up some good moments. Filmmaker Spike Lee was honored with a special award, the President’s Award, and gave a nice speech honoring the women in his life. Tracee Ellis Ross also made an amazing speech when she won Lead Actress in a Comedy for blackish, exclaiming that she hopes her life will imitate art one day – babies and marriage, like her character, around the corner for her. A standing ovation was given to legendary duo – Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett as they came out to present one of the last awards of the night, Lead Actor. The award was given to David Oyelowo, for his work in Selma, and lead to the best speech of the night. Oyelowo spoke on his destiny to play Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. beginning in 2007, the support of his wife, recognition of female directors especially “his sister” Ava DuVernay, and last but certainly not least, his American mother “Mama O”. It was beautiful and a standing ovation followed from all. Finally, Selma took home the award for Outstanding Motion Picture presented by Will Smith looking all good in his tuxedo. Always great to see him! And Entertainer of the Year was awarded to Taraji P. Henson.

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So even after a few highlights, I still go back to my original question: NAACP Image Awards, what has happened to you? It is definitely not the same awards show I used to have so much joy in watching, I sped-watched half of the telecast. It seems like the selection of categories being announced is becoming less each year and the time constriction is becoming more apparent. It seems like there is more emphasis on who they can get there then who is actually there. If I played a drinking game, taking a sip every time Oprah was mentioned, I would have been drunk by the end. There was a time when Oprah being in attendance to the show was not that big of a deal, do not get me wrong Ms. Winfrey is always a big deal, but I’m trying to explain that everyone who was in attendance was considered the same way. This is certainly not the same show that once ended with everybody jamming to Stevie Wonder singing Higher Ground after a successful hosting job from Halle Berry and Tyler Perry. Or the time Diahann Carroll made a surprise appearance to help present the President’s Award to Kerry Washington. Even when a mini and awesome Def Jam poetry slam moment was brought to life to honor Russell Simmons for the Vanguard Award. And the time gravity shifted as Sidney Poitier presented an award to his friend Harry Belafonte, both standing on stage together. All these moments happened in past ceremonies, just in the past few years, but the route the Image Awards are going, they now seem so long ago. I would have thought, if anything, TV One would have brought that more familiarization and looseness once again to the show. That feeling that everyone may be in different heights of their careers, but in that room, they were all the crème de la crème of entertainment.

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But right now, the show has lost that for me. I didn’t get that feeling last year, and not again this year. What it really needs to outlast these next few years on this limited network, just like its parent organization, is a revamp: a big ol’ one. Directing, producing, just errthang! Yet until then, I’ll keep watching because even with all its current drawbacks, I gotta keep hope alive. It’s still an awards show, and an award show celebrating diversity; you know, just a few of my favorite things. But let it be known, NAACP Image Awards, until you get your act back together …

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