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NAACP Image Awards: Key Categories to Watch

Over the years, the NAACP Image Awards has celebrated an increasing number of LGBT movies, television shows, actors and characters.

Although there have been far more nominations than wins, there are noticeable strides. For instance, Viola Davis won the actress in a drama series Image Award for her turn as bisexual attorney Annalise Keating on “How to Get Away With Murder” in 2016. And “Moonlight,” which tracks the life of a gay boy growing up in poverty, triumphed last year with four wins, including directing and independent motion picture.

This year, openly gay actress Rutina Wesley has been nominated for actress in a drama series for her performance on OWN’s “Queen Sugar.” She will compete against Davis, nominated again in the category for her performance as Annalise Keating, and an Image Award victor last year for her supporting film turn in “Fences.” They are up against “Underground” star Jurnee Smollett-Bell, “Scandal” star Kerry Washington and last year’s victor, “Empire” star Taraji P. Henson, in the category.

Lena Waithe, the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for comedy writing, is nominated for an Image Award for her work on the Netflix series “Master of None.” Waithe co-wrote the nominated episode, titled “Thanksgiving,” with show creator Aziz Ansari; it is about her own experience coming out as a lesbian to her family. She and Ansari will be competing against “Insecure” creator Issa Rae, nominated for the episodes “Hella Great” and “Hella Perspective,” along with “Claws” writer Janine Sherman Barrois and “Dear White People” creator-writer Justin Simien.

And lesbian filmmaker Dee Rees has been nominated for her directing and co-writing on the film “Mudbound”; she will vie against the likes of Jordan Peele (writing and directing, “Get Out”); Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani (writing “The Big Sick”); and “Girls Trip” co-writers Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver, and director Malcolm D. Lee for an Image Award trophy.

Will the NAACP Image Awards keep evolving and give these three women wins? And will the kudocast’s move to wide-scale open voting this year help or hurt their chances?

Viewers will find out when “The 49th NAACP Image Awards” air Jan. 15 on TV One. In the meantime, here are six more categories of particular note:

Entertainer of the Year: Every year, this category becomes more and more fascinating in large part because of the racial diversity and contributions of its nominees. This includes pop star Bruno Mars, the only non-black nominee, a biracial performer of Puerto Rican, Filipino and European heritage. Actress, writer and producer Issa Rae’s name ascended the ranks to this top category faster than expected, as did Chance the Rapper. When measured against fellow nominees Ava DuVernay and Jay-Z, these two are less accomplished. Rae and Chance are younger and do have heavier social-media footprints so that could be a strong determinant as well. Rae has other chances to win, thanks to an acting and two writing noms; Chance won the new artist Image Award last year.

Motion Picture: With nominees that include the lighthearted comedy “Girls Trip,” this category is missing the heft from last year, when “Hidden Figures,” “Fences” and “Moonlight” competed with “Loving” and “The Birth of a Nation.” “Girls Trip” will vie against Jordan Peele’s “Get Out”; Kathryn Bigelow’s “Detroit,” about the 1967 riots in that city; Denzel Washington starrer “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”; and “Marshall,” about young Thurgood Marshall before he ascended to the Supreme Court. Overlooked: arguably worthy considerations such as “Crown Heights,” which did receive an actress and supporting actress nomination. “Detroit” was also nominated in the independent movie category, where its competitors include “Mudbound.”

Drama Series: Of the five dramas nominated, only “Underground” is no longer on the air. WGN canceled the program after two seasons in 2017, but if it were to win, the positive attention might inspire another network to pick up the runaway slave drama. Or at least fan the flames of hope. It has strong competition, however, in NBC tearjerker “This Is Us” and returning champ “Queen Sugar” from OWN, plus cablemate “Greenleaf” and “Power” from Starz.

Comedy Series: Canceled comedy “Survivor’s Remorse,” which aired on Starz for four seasons, could also use the boost; it’s the only discontinued show in the category. Returning victor “Black-ish” will face off against it, along with newer rivals such as “Dear White People” and “Insecure.” “Ballers” fills out the category. Missing in action: Outgoing comedy “The Carmichael Show” although co-star Loretta Devine did earn an actress nomination.

Talk Series: “Jimmy Kimmel Live” has been nominated in this category despite the host being a white male. If his late-night ABC talk show wins, it will further highlight just how painfully underrepresented men and women of color are in TV’s after midnight milieu. “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah,” “Super Soul Sunday,” “The View” and “The Real” will compete with Kimmel for the trophy.

Directing in a Dramatic Series: Gina Prince-Bythewood is the only female director nominated in this category this time around. A win for her could signal a changing tide and hopefully more women nominees in the future. Names that could’ve been considered this year include “Queen Sugar” and “Dear White People” director Tina Mabry and Regina King. King directed episodes of “This Is Us” and “Shameless” in 2017, and won a TV drama directing Image Award for “Southland” four years ago.

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