Image Awards Celebrate African American Excellence

Article excerpt

On Valentine's Day, Hollywood's elite came out to honor some of the nation's most talented actors, singers, writers, directors and producers. The 39th NAACP Image Awards, held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, celebrated the achievements of African Americans in television, music, literature and film. Comedian D.L. Hughley hosted this year's show, whose theme was: "Stand Up & Be Counted," a reference to the upcoming 2008 presidential election.

Gospel singers Kirk Franklin kicked off the awards ceremony with a stirring version of his hit song, "Declaration (This Is It)," featuring Native American, Asian, African, Brazilian and Hispanic performers.

The evening included a Who's Who of performers such as singer India.Arie, the cast of Tyler Perry's House of Payne, actresses Angela Bassett, Audra McDonald, Sanaa Lathan and Vanessa L. Williams of the hit television show Ugly Betty. Actor and author Hill Harper also participated, along with comedian Tracy Morgan. Young performers such as rapper and actor Romeo, American Idol winner Jordin Sparks and Jurnee Smollett of The Great Debaters graced the stage, as did musical groups Sounds of Blackness and Take 6.

The first award of the evening went to Denzel Whitaker. Actors Anthony Anderson and Kimberly Elise presented the up-and-coming performer with the award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture for his role in The Great Debaters. The film, about a debate team at a historically Black college in Texas that beats elite White universities, won four out of the seven awards in the Motion Pictures categories. Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington won for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture. Jurnee Smollett received the award for Outstanding Actress and the film won Outstanding Motion Picture.

Tyler Perry's House of Payne received the most awards in the television category. The sitcom won for Outstanding Comedy Series, and actors La Van Davis and Lance Gross won for their roles on the TBS show. Davis received the award for Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series and Gross for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.

In the music category, Alicia Keys was the evening's leading lady. Keys won four Image Awards, including Outstanding Female Artist and Outstanding Album. Her song, "Like You'll Never see Me Again," received the awards for Outstanding Music Video and Outstanding Song.

The NAACP recognized several works based on the genocide in Darfur. Actor Don Cheadle and John Prendergast's book, Not on Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond, received an Image Award, and the film, Darfur Now, won the Outstanding Documentary award.

Legends were also honored at the 39th NAACP Image Awards. Awardwinning singer Aretha Franklin received the NAACP Vanguard Award. The award is presented to "a person whose groundbreaking work increases our understanding and awareness of racial and social issues." Franklin is only the fourth person to receive the Vanguard. Other recipients include legendary musician Prince and directors Stanley Kramer and Steven Spielberg. Franklin has won 17 Grammy Awards and in 2005 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award.

But the "Queen of Soul" said receiving the NAACP's Vanguard Award was "the icing on the cake." She was presented with the award by director Tyler Perry.

"I was on board for the first and second Image Awards when the sets were falling down and the cue cards were being written in the wings just before the artists walked onstage," said Franklin. …