It’s no coincidence that the NAACP Image Awards are taking place a lot later than usual this year. Trumpeting its 50th anniversary, the organizers behind the broadcast say they wanted this year’s show to bask in its own spotlight away from other awards-season mainstays.
This is worth noting because in past years, the Image Awards took place right before or soon after the Academy Awards, where African-Americans have been frequently and woefully overlooked. As a result, the Image Awards have come to symbolize a more inclusive atmosphere where artists of color could receive the praise they deserved but often didn’t receive from the mainstream.
While there have been exceptions — the Image Awards took place on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday last year — the intention remained. Dates aside, the ceremony holds even more meaning this time around, says Derrick Johnson, NAACP president and CEO.
“This year’s show is a stand-alone milestone,” Johnson says. “We didn’t find it necessary to have it take place within award season, as it had been previously designed. Honoring 50 years should be something we celebrate outside of the pressures of award season.
“We wanted to host this year’s Image Awards in a grander theater, and it is at the Dolby Theatre, where the Oscars are held. This is the first time the Dolby has housed the Image Awards. And it needs to have that type of prominence. But more importantly, we didn’t want it to conflict with any other activities that take place during award season. We wanted to make sure people had an opportunity to participate and enjoy this celebration of the Image Awards’ 50 years of excellence within the entertainment industry.”
Being celebrated within your own community also has a deeper significance, says actress Rutina Wesley. 2019 marks the third year Wesley has been nominated in the actress in a drama series category for her role on OWN’s “Queen Sugar.” Six years ago, Wesley got her first nom in the supporting actress in a drama category for her HBO’s “True Blood.”
“They’ve created a space where we can love, support and celebrate each other and honestly, every time my name comes across, I just feel seen,” Wesley says. “They’ve seen me since ‘True Blood’ and I’ve always felt so at home and I feel honored. And it just reminds me that I’m loved in the community.
“To be nominated with Viola [Davis], who is my idol, is a dream,” she says. “To have my name next to hers — I can just go ahead and check that off my list. I don’t even have to win.”
Other nominees in the category are Taraji P. Henson for “Empire” on Fox; Alfre Woodard from “Marvel’s Luke Cage,” which Netflix canceled; and Naturi Naughton from Starz’s “Power.”
Henson, who has won the dramatic actress Image Award for the past three years, will likely win again, though a win for Wesley, Woodard or Naughton would be a pleasant surprise. Davis snagged the honor in 2015.
Kerry Washington, who won for her leading role on “Scandal” more than once in the past, has been nominated as a guest actress for her appearance on “How to Get Away With Murder.”
The 50th NAACP Image Awards air live March 30 on TV One. Here are a few more categories of note:
Entertainer of the Year:
This category never ceases to amaze. For instance, nominees Chadwick Boseman and Ryan Coogler respectively starred in and directed “Black Panther,” the biggest movie of 2019 Meanwhile, NBA champion LeBron James became a Los Angeles Laker and launched his own HBO talk show. So how do you compare those triumphs to those of nominee Beyonce’s “On the Run II” tour, which grossed $253 million, or Oscar and Emmy winner Regina King’s prolific year? You can’t. But the good news is whoever wins it, earned it.
Actor in a Motion Picture:
This category pits co-stars against one another — Boseman and Michael B. Jordan — and “Black Panther’s” uncle against nephew. Although Boseman is being honored for “Black Panther” and Jordan is nommed for “Creed 2.” Denzel Washington, who has been nominated for his leading role in “The Equalizer 2,” is competing against his son John David Washington, who starred in “BlacKkKlansman.” Stephan James’ heartbreaking performance in “If Beale Street Could Talk” is the only nomination without an obvious conflict.
Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series:
Nominees are Laurence Fishburne and Marcus Scribner from ABC’s “Black-ish”; Jay Ellis for HBO’s “Insecure”; John David Washington from HBO’s “Ballers”; and Tituss Burgess from Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” But what about Brian Tyree Henry? His breakout performance in season two of “Atlanta” surpassed expectations. NAACP members could
have easily skipped Fishburne this year — he was barely in season four of “Black-ish” — and celebrated Henry instead.
Supporting Actor in a Drama Series:
Nearly every question about this category involves embattled “Empire” star Jussie Smollett. Will he attend this year’s Image Awards and could he win? Back in January, the actor said two men attacked him and shouted racist and homophobic slurs. Since then, Smollett has been indicted on 16 felony counts for filing false police reports. Rounding out the list of nominees in this category are Jesse Williams of ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy”; Joe Morton for ABC’s “Scandal”; Romany Malco for “A Million Little Things” on ABC; and Wendell Pierce for “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” on Amazon.
Actress in a Motion Picture:
Besides the aforementioned actress categories in television, Amandla Stenberg turns in a thought-provoking, compelling performance in “The Hate U Give” and it’s deserving she get recognition here. KiKi Layne delivers understated strength in “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Constance Wu (“Crazy Rich Asians”), Sanaa Lathan (“Nappily Ever After”) and Viola Davis (“Widows”) round out this competitive category.