Prominent actors, musicians, activists, and public figures in the black community gathered together on Saturday, February 22 to celebrate the 51st annual NAACP Image Awards in Pasadena. Hosted by Anthony Anderson, the evening recognized tremendous talents in the industry, across film, television, and philanthropic ventures, while sprinkling in humor, art, and moving speeches.
The Image Awards, presented by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), hit the scene in August of 1967 and was co-founded by civil rights activist, Maggie Mae Hathaway. The awards were born out of the struggle for inclusion of all Americans, regardless of their race, within the entertainment industry. The Image Awards today showcase a multicultural awards show from an African-American point of view, evolving from its original goal to honor outstanding performances from black entertainers and creatives in Hollywood.
Awards were doled out for excellence in television, motion pictures, music, literature, directing, writing, animation, and documentaries. Anderson himself snagged his sixth award for his performance in Black-ish, which also won an award for best series. Other big wins for the night included Just Mercy for outstanding motion picture and its stars Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx won in their categories for their performance in the film. Lil Nas X and Bruno Mars won big in the music categories alongside Beyoncé.
The evening included a performance by Jill Scott, a four-time NAACP award winner herself. She started with a rendition of her 2000 hit “Do You Remember” before she transitioned into “The Way,” both off of her album Who Is Jill Scott?, which debuted twenty years ago. H.E.R. took on the second performance of the night, joined by Skip Marley for their duet. They performed a medley, ending with an homage to Skip’s late father, Bob Marley, by putting their own spin on “Turn Your Lights Down Low.”
Lizzo took home one of the biggest honors of the night, crowned Entertainer of the Year. In typical Lizzo fashion, the singer gave a spirited speech to celebrate the meaning of the evening.
“Hello beautiful black people!” she started her speech. “I just want to thank the NAACP for making this one of the most special nights. I got to meet all of my heroes tonight in this room. Miss Angela Bassett, thank you for this award. It says that I’m the entertainer of the year, but you are the entertainer, period!”
“I just want to shout out all the big black girls I bring onstage with me,” she added. “I do that because I want them to know they are the trophies. Since this is the final award of the night, I don’t even want to make it about me. Every last one of you: you are the award. We are so special. We are such beautiful people. This is just a reminder of all the incredible things that we can do. God bless you, and keep on being an award. Let’s go!”
It’s no surprise that Blue Ivy is already winning awards. The 8-year-old daughter of music icons Beyoncé and Jay-Z received her first NAACP award in the Outstanding Duo or Group award with her mother, Sant Jhn, and Wizkid for “Brown Skin Girl” from The Lion King: The Gift.
The biggest award of the entire night–the President’s Award–went to none other than Rihanna for her contributions across so many mediums, including philanthropy. NAACP President Derrick Johnson presented the multi-talented Rihanna with the award, praising her for her contributions to music, fashion, beauty, business, and charity. The multi-hyphenate talent founded the Clara Lionel Foundation and has helped raise billions of dollars to address educational inequality, cancer research, disaster relief, and various other causes, namely through her annual Diamond Ball gala. Rihanna made a rare award show appearance to accept the award, thanking the NAACP for their work and addressing the audience about unity moving forward.
“How many of us in this room have colleagues and partners and friends from other races, sexes, religions? Show of hands?’ They want to break bread with you, right? They like you? Well then, this is their problem too. So when we’re marching and protesting and posting about the Michael Brown Jr’s and the Atatiana Jefferson’s of the world, tell your friends to pull up.”
In her speech, Rihanna acknowledged that the night was not about her and that her part is only a small portion of the progress that needs to be made in the world.
“If there’s anything I’ve learned, is that we can only fix this world together,” she said in her speech. “We can’t do it divided. I cannot emphasize that enough. We can’t let the de-sensitivity seep in. The, ‘If it’s your problem, then it’s not mine; it’s a woman’s problem; it’s a black people problem; it’s a poor people problem.”