The NAACP does not stand with R. Kelly. At Saturday’s nominees luncheon for the 50th NAACP Image Awards, the organization’s president and CEO Derrick Johnson slammed the R&B singer, who recently made waves in a CBS interview with Gayle King. In the viral clip, Kelly yells and cries as he denies his alleged sexual abuse of multiple female victims, many of whom were minors.
“We cannot celebrate inclusion as long as we look at the foolishness on television, whether it’s R. Kelly or other unfortunate incidents,” Johnson said. “We must continue to uphold and uplift all of our creativity because it’s through our creative power that we will continue to lead the nation.”
Kelly had already been the subject of mockery earlier in the program. The CBS spot earned him another mention during opening banter between co-hosts Sheryl Lee Ralph and Major, who collected three NAACP Image nominations.
“I thought Jesus was recovering after that Gayle King interview,” Ralph quipped, prompting Major to impersonate Kelly’s widely-circulated statement on his alleged crimes: “‘I didn’t do it!’ Major shouted. “While the cameras were on, ‘I didn’t do it!'”
Negativity surrounding Kelly’s case was part of a deeper discussion about the importance of positive representation for people of color to overpower such standalone behavior. The nominees were optimistic that milestones like “Black Panther” are indicative of a positive shift in how Hollywood handles minority stories.
“Black people are making noise right now,” said “This Is Us” star and NAACP Image nominee Lyric Ross. “Especially young people — they’re speaking out and telling you what you need to hear, and that’s what we need right now.”
“This year’s Oscars felt pretty cool — we had ‘Black Panther’ up there; ‘Green Book’ won,” added “Black-ish” star and NAACP Image nominee Marcus Scribner. “Black talent has been making a lot of amazing movies and television shows for a really long time, and it’s cool to see us finally getting recognized on the grand stage.”
Many also stressed the necessity of producers, working behind the scenes at companies like Netflix, who champion inclusive storytelling.
“There’s always work to do, but I definitely think that we have amazing networks like Netflix who really don’t see barriers when it comes to telling stories from different lenses,” said “Dear White People” star and NAACP Image nominee Logan Browning. “That’s why Netflix changed their logo. It does the ’N’ and then it breaks off into this multicolor thing because they just see it as everyone should be able to tell their story. It should be specific to people’s cultures and their backgrounds but also just kind of a flow where there are no lines and anyone can get into anyone else’s story.”
“Luke Cage” director and NAACP Image nominee Salli Richardson-Whitfield echoed Browning’s sentiments about the streaming service, which she praised for “grabbing a lot of the big black producers.” Despite Netflix’s recent cancellation of “Luke Cage” as part of a wider purge of its Marvel content, Richardson-Whitfield maintained her loyalty to the streamer in the Steven Spielberg-versus-Netflix debate.
“The one thing that Netflix does is give people of different ethnicities a chance to have their movies be seen, and as long as it is a movie, and it comes up to the caliber of the movies that are out, then I think that Steven’s going to have to go with the future of movies,” she said, referencing Spielberg’s public skepticism surrounding Netflix’s Oscar eligibility.
More acting and creative nominees in attendance included Adele Lim, Daisy Lightfoot, Essence Atkins, James Mathis III, Katrina M. O’Gilvie, Kay Oyegun, Laya DeLeon Hayes and Loretta Devine. The luncheon was held at the Loews Hollywood Hotel in Los Angeles, and the 50th NAACP Image Awards will take place on March 30 at the Dolby Theatre.
Members of the NAACP did not make any comments during the reception regarding its supporting actor in a drama series nomination for “Empire” star Jussie Smollett, who, on Friday, was indicted on 16 counts for an allegedly-staged hate crime earlier this year.