To the Nominees…
We entered 2016 with the understanding that we were stepping into the final months of the Obama presidency; the tributes and reflections would be consistent and, by the end of the year, a source of respite and comfort. Alas, the outcome of November’s election wouldn’t be our only heartbreak in a year that saw more devastating police violence, continued social unrest and the deaths of many of our beloved notables, including Muhammad Ali, Gwen Ifill, Maurice White and Phife Dawg.
But despite the many challenges and devastating losses, 2016 was also a banner year for the thinkers and the creatives, the activists and the artists who played an essential role in helping us push through to December 31st. As the time has come again for us to honor those whose work in the fields of television, music, literature, film and social justice who shone so brightly via the 48th NAACP Image Awards, we’d like to take a moment to express our gratitude for those who made a tough year so much easier to survive.
It should come as no surprise that Beyoncé leads the pack with seven nominations, as her jaw-dropping “Formation” video would introduce us to the most powerful side of the multi-hyphenate artist we’ve seen to date: the unapologetic race woman. Just months later, as we nursed broken hearts following Prince’s shocking death, her stirring Lemonade visual album would provide needed comfort. The groundbreaking record explored the complicated nature of love, forgiveness and Black womanhood.
We thank her for being fierce, fearless and willing to fight for “Freedom.”
Pardon the pun, but it would be remiss not to mention Queen Bey’s collaboration with Kendrick Lamar. Up for two Image Awards, the stirring track would become an anthem for a new generation of activists and game-changers who are leading a renaissance of resistance before our eyes. We are grateful for the Top Dawg emcee’s surprise Unmastered/Untitled album; though certain critics outside the community weren’t as inspired by his fusion of funk, jazz and hip-hop, another Knowles queen gave us the perfect response to those who simply didn’t get it: “This sh*t is for us.”
Solange’s long-anticipated A Seat at the Table epitomized the concept of unapologetic Blackness, serving as a sonic love letter to our bodies, our struggle and our being. “Don’t Touch My Hair” was as much a command as it was catharsis for all who have felt weighed down by the gaze of those who simply don’t understand who we are, and we give our highest praise to Knowles for giving us an album that sits so perfectly at the intersection of beauty and power.
We thank fellow music nominees Chance the Rapper for personifying #BlackBoyJoy, and Chloe X Halle for being #BlackGirlMagic. Alicia Keys for being unfiltered in a world of man-made beauty, and Robert Glasper for continuing the tradition of Miles Davis in a field where live instrumentation seems increasingly rare.
Speaking of Davis, we must honor Don Cheadle for brilliantly traveling Miles Ahead with a fascinating peek into the late musician’s world. We’re also indebted to Denzel Washington for bringing August Wilson’s famed Fences to the rich, big screen life it deserves as director, producer and star; to Viola Davis and the entire cast for their beautiful take on a well-loved text. We bask in the glow of Moonlight, the stunning coming-of-age story that explores Black gay identity without tired tropes and with a lot of heart. And, of course, we’re over the moon to see the success of Hidden Figures, the no-longer-untold story of three Black women who helped change space travel for good.
Though the battle to diversify representation in the world of film continues on (even if #OscarsSoWhite is, at the least, poised to be less accurate than ever this year), there was an explosion of Black genius on television in 2016. Issa Rae’s Insecure and Donald Glover’s Atlanta are spot-on snapshots of the lives of Black millennials at work and play and we’re grateful to see our people have the freedom to be honest, complicated and quirky.
There’s no shortage of reasons to be thankful for LeBron James. The 2017 NAACP Jackie Robinson Sports Award honoree is also one of the brains behind Survivor’s Remorse, a hilarious and poignant look at an extended family changed by one young man’s basketball superstardom. We love King James for using his own NBA success to be a voice for our people in ways both big and small.
We raise a glass to Ava DuVernay for killing it on screens of all sizes, debuting the hauntingly beautiful Queen Sugar and 13th, a sobering documentary that highlights the lack of difference between chattel slavery and mass incarceration. We applaud Sterling K. Brown for breaking hearts on This Is Us and resurrecting a complicated history in American Crime Story: The People Vs. O.J. Simpson (along with fellow nominees Courtney B. Vance and Cuba Gooding Jr., who blew our minds with their turns as Johnnie Cochran and his once-beloved client). Speaking of complicated history, we love Kerry Washington and Jeffrey Wright even more for their pitch perfect portrayals of Anita Hill and Charles Ogletree in Confirmation.
Though questionable reporting and decreasing diversity seem to be on trend elsewhere, we’re grateful for the journalistic excellence of MSNBC’s AM Joy with Joy Reid and TVOne’s own NewsOne Now with Roland Martin. We’ll skip the “fake news” and, instead, celebrate fiction from the likes of Colson Whitehead and Bernice L. McFadden, as well as the real talk from fellow literary nominees Cornel West, Angela Davis and Mychal Denzel Smith.
When it comes to 2016, there is much that we may wish to forget (or #resist), but we’ll never deny the work of these nominees, who represent the best that a trying year had to offer. To each and every one of them, again, we thank you.
Vice President of News and Men’s Programming
You can join us in celebrating these gifted folks by tuning into TVOne for the 48th Annual NAACP Image Awards this Saturday, February 11, 2017. The two hour star-studded event, hosted by Anthony Anderson, will broadcast at 9pm/8c as a two-hour special. A 90-minute pre-show will air live from the red carpet at 7:30pm/6:30c.