40th NAACP Image Awards Honors the Milestones of the Past

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The season of red-carpet walks, designer gowns and thank-you speeches is upon us. But as entertainment award ceremonies toast some of the best and brightest in Hollywood, none will champion the colorful spectrum of talent in Tinseltown, nor turn everyday heroes into celebrities, quite like the NAACP Image Awards.

This year marks the 40th year of the celebration, themed "Milestones of the Past. ..Gateway to the Future." If history repeats itself, the show, airing live on Feb. 12, will be an inspirational one to remember. For starters, Oscar-winning starlet and producer Halle Berry and writer-director Tyler Perry will host the night's festivities. Both have made unimaginable strides in the industry, making them the perfect duo for the job. Both are also no strangers to the show. Berry has four Image Awards under her belt, and Perry has also won several Image Awards for his work.

"We are extremely honored to have former Image Awards winners Ms. Halle Berry and Mr. Tyler Perry host this historic event," said Image Awards chairperson Clayola Brown in a statement. "Halle and Tyler have broken many barriers in the entertainment industry. In this historic centennial year, their successes remind us of the immense progress that has been made in the last 100 years and gives us continued hope for the progress that our nation will achieve in the future."

The NAACP has been pushing for that progress since its inception. Its main mission has always been to foster a climate of fairness, equality and social justice among the races. That includes supporting the minority faces behind and in front of the Hollywood lens. The entertainment industry has been under the microscope since 1915, when the NAACP led a nationwide protest against the showing of D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation for its depiction of Blacks. The organization has consistently fought negative stereotypes and the under-representation of minorities through its diversity initiatives. It was in the heat of the Civil Rights Movement that the Image Awards were created, out of a need to highlight the accomplishments of Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans and others who wouldn't otherwise get that pat on the back by the mainstream.

Decades later, career opportunities are much broader for minorities. Look at Shonda Rhimes, the African American creator of the hit show Grey 's Anatomy as one example. But she's rare, and both the TV and film industries still have miles to go, particularly with the hiring of minorities as producers, writers and directors. Broadcast television alone is facing some criticism for a decreasing number of African American workers on its rolls.

For example, "Out of Focus-Out of Sync, Take 4," a report released in December by the NAACP Hollywood Bureau, notes that after the WB-UPN network merger, there was a two-thirds decline in the number of African American writers. …