The BET Awards are officially a celebration of “Black excellence,” and Sunday night’s show featured blockbuster performances from Lizzo, Mariah Carey, Latto, Jack Harlow (who was joined by Brandy and Lil Wayne) and an elaborate tribute to Lifetime Achievement honoree Sean “Diddy” Combs that included an unannounced in-person speech from Kanye West.
But for the second time in three years, the show coincided with galvanizing events in the United States: In 2020, it was George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police and the ensuing the Black Lives Matter protests, and this year it was the Supreme Court’s polarizing overturn of Roe v. Wade and the impending loss of a woman’s right to choose in many states in the country.
The show’s goal is to highlight and celebrate Black music’s present and future while serving as a driving force for social change, and no less than three female artists — host Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae and Jazmine Sullivan — made powerful statements about the ruling in the first half hour of the show, and many more followed.
And in the hours before the show, many more shared their thoughts with Variety on the scorching-hot red carpet at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles.
British singer-songwriter Ella Mai, who took the stage tonight to introduce Babyface and Roddy Ricch, said, “I don’t know how anyone could have any other thoughts other than it’s ridiculous. I’m not from this country but I live in this country and it makes me really sad. It feels like we’re going backwards, especially for women’s rights and minorities. Honestly, sometimes it makes you feel very, very helpless. We more than ever need to come together as a people and really try and fight against it.”
Irv Gotti, who will be premiering his five-part documentary series about his Murder Inc. Records on the network in August, said, “I think it’s incredible that the powers that be are this stupid. Why would they do that? Because I don’t think women are going to stop doing whatever they feel best, so all they’re doing is causing confusion. If a woman gets pregnant and she doesn’t want to have it, she’s going to have an abortion. So the government trying to dictate to people what they’re supposed to do is just crazy.
“Want me to get deep on you?,” he continued. “The whole abortion thing with the government is about white women. Because minorities are having babies at such an alarming rate, white people are going to be minorities in a minute. It’s really a message to white women to stop having abortions and have the babies to keep up with all the Blacks and Latinos having the babies. That whole border thing, that’s because they don’t want a Mexican coming across the border, getting someone pregnant and producing a Democrat. It’s deep, but it’s real. This abortion thing, it isn’t for Blacks, Latinos, and minorities. It’s for white women to stop having abortions. It’s crazy on the whole, you can’t tell women what to do. It’s as simple as that. They keep trying these crazy methods to try to get back control in the world, but they keep showing that they’re idiots. You’re not gonna control women — think of some other twisted, demented thing to do, because that’s not gon’ work.”
Atlanta rapper Lightskinkeisha said, “Oh man, honestly we’re living in some real scary times right now. The fact that women are losing the rights to our own bodies, that’s insane. But you know, God is control of it all, so at the end of the day, as a woman, whatever your choice is, it’s still your body. Your choice, so you do whatever the fuck you want to. Don’t let nobody tell you what to do, period!”
Victoria Monet, who was Variety’s Hitmaker of the Month back in 2019 for her work on Ariana Grande’s “Thank u, Next,” said, “I’m pretty baffled about how this is even a thing? I don’t understand why the people making the decisions are so old and out of touch. It’s 2022, you need to get with it. I just feel very frustrated they don’t understand why abortions are necessary. I want to know the ways to fix it — as much as we can talk mess about how it’s happened, how can we get back? How can we get our freedom back? How can we fix it? That’s my next focus.”
Actress Eva Marcille, most notably known for winning the third cycle of “America’s Next Top Model,” said, “It’s absolutely disgusting. My grandparents are turning over in their graves. At a Trump rally the other day, that congresswoman [Rep. Mary Miller, R-IL] had Trump behind her and said ‘This is a victory for white lives’ — and it better shows the world that we truly live in. It’s a reality that people of color, melanated people have lived forever. We walk with our heads high as if that’s not our world and I think it’s polarizing. It’s no longer able to be so hidden.”
Controversial former “Empire” star Jussie Smollett said, “It’s despicable, but we’ll keep fighting. We’ll make sure that we get our asses out there and we vote. This isn’t anything new. If we paid attention closely, we would know that this is where they were going. Every single right that we have fought so hard for, they’re gonna try to strip away. This is not about parties, this is literally about what’s right and wrong.”
He added, “I pray also that men step up. All too often we see women posting and yelling about it, as they should, but this is not their fight alone. It’s so important for us to step up as men as well, to call out the atrocities of this government, of the Supreme Court, and of the decision.”
Generation Now founder DJ Drama, who was on stage at the show DJing for Jack Harlow as he brought out Lil Wayne and Brandy performance, said with a sigh, “It’s fucked-up times we in. This is a moment that, honestly, we saw coming. It’s just sickening to see men making decisions on women’s bodies and what pro-life means. It’s only not pro-life when it comes to Black people.”
Doechii, who recently announced her signing to TDE/Capitol Records, said, “It’s a really sad time for women, a sad time for everybody right now. I think it’s bullshit. It’s wrong and we need to reevaluate things as a nation, as a whole.”
Erica Banks, who went viral during the pandemic for her “Buss It” challenge, states, “It’s very unfortunate, but I’m just glad that women are still at least able to get another state to get it done — at least we have that.”
Producer, author and motivational speaker Devon Franklin said, “I’m really disheartened and frustrated but at the same time, resolved. We have to fight. It’s a woman’s right to choose. I’m just like everyone else, I’m fired up and ready to activate politically. Organize and do what we have to do to protect women’s rights to choose.”
Rae Sremmurd’s Slim Jxmmi said, “I just don’t understand why they would do something like that, it doesn’t make sense. It shouldn’t be our decision as men — it shouldn’t be our decision as anybody, it shouldn’t be the government’s decision. It’s doing a lot of harm to our communities.”
His bandmate Swae Lee added, “Definitely let the women control their bodies. That’s a decision that can’t be governed.”
TV personality, model, and actress Tami Roman said, “Well, is this supposed to be America? When you talk about land of the free in terms of men making decisions on what women can do with their bodies? Overturning that Roe v. Wade decision set us back to the 40’s. And particularly for me — on ‘The Real World’ in 1993, I made a decision to terminate a pregnancy. And I was thankful that I had the right to choose, because I wasn’t ready for a child. They’re taking that away from every woman, because the issue is not whether you’re pro-life or pro-choice: You can be whatever your stance is, but you have to be respectful of giving people the choice, whatever that may be.”
Viral R&B singer and personality Queen Naija states, “Women should decide what they want to do with their bodies, of course. They should be able to decide. That’s between the woman and God. Sometimes a lot of things happen where people get raped and or you’re having a baby by an abusive man, sometimes bringing children into this world, this cold world, is worse than — I ain’t gon’ say it. But we should be in control.”