With an unprecedented global pandemic and the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks as its backdrop, the 2020 BET Awards takes on increased importance this year. Fittingly, not only does the Black entertainment celebration make its first national broadcast premiere on CBS, it’s also celebrating its 20th anniversary.
“It’s the perfect storm,” says Connie Orlando, executive vice president at the network who heads programming. “The BET Awards has always been a platform for creativity, culture, and excellence. It has always spoken to what is going on in the world and our communities… That’s what makes this award show so special.”
The importance of the milestone celebration lies less with the fact that it is taking place virtually during COVID, but that it is happening in the midst of a major moment in Black history. As the world stands in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, sparked by the killings of Black Americans by law enforcement, Hollywood and businesses across the country are progressively recognizing the need for diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Indeed, say BET Awards producers, there is no better time to honor Black creatives than at this very moment.
The pre-recorded show is hosted by “Insecure” actress Amanda Seales who is known for her activism and for pushing Black voices to the forefront of Hollywood. “You can expect Amanda to be classic Amanda,” Orlando says. ”There was no better choice for this year’s show.”
Nominees and performers set to appear include Lizzo, Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, Drake, DaBaby, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, Chloe x Halle and Travis Scott, among others. Drake leads nominees with six nods, while Megan Thee Stallion and Roddy Ricch garnered five apiece. Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown, Lizzo, and DaBaby are the third-highest with four nominations each.
Saint JHN, a writer and artist whose song “Roses” has gone viral this past year thanks in large part to its popularity on TikTok, is nominated for one of the most prestigious awards of the night, the BET Her award, for his guest turn on Beyonce’s “Brown Skin Girl” which also features singer Wizkid and the show’s youngest nominee ever, Blue Ivy Carter.
“It couldn’t be more perfect [or] more serendipitous,” says Saint JHN (whose real name is Carlos St. John). “I hit the nail on the head with this one. Being nominated for a BET Her Award for ‘Brown Skin Girl’ with Beyonce, think of the importance of that.”
Although it’s unclear if Beyonce will make an appearance, she is being honored with this year’s humanitarian award, and with Blue Ivy receiving her first nomination ever, fans hope she will send a personal message.
The year’s programming marks another big moment for the show as it will air for the first time on a major broadcast network, CBS, broadening its core audience. “It’s going to be powerful, says Orlando. “It will be powerful for everyone.”
See the full list of nominees and tune in tonight at 8 p.m. EST on CBS and BET to see who goes home with trophies.