Oprah Winfrey was crowned this year's unofficial queen of the black entertainment industry Saturday night at the NAACP Image Awards ceremony. However, a surprise shake-up amid ongoing discord in the civil rights association's host Beverly Hills-Hollywood chapter put a damper on the evening's celebration at the Wiltern Theatre.
Talk-show host, producer and actress Winfrey was named entertainer of the year and won three other Image Awards, given annually since 1967 by the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People to performers and shows that present fair images of blacks in the media.
Winfrey also was honored for her work on "The Women of Brewster Place" and for the "No One Dies Alone" segment of "Prime Time Oprah."
Almost overshadowing the awards was the sudden resignation of Willis Edwards, president of the Beverly Hills-Hollywood chapter of the NAACP for the last eight years. His replacement by the chapter's No. 2 officer, Sandra Evers-Manly, was announced in a one-page message inside the awards program.
Edwards said after the show that his decision to step down was not prompted by friction within his chapter--reportedly in part over allegations he misused chapter funds and anger spurred by his ongoing pursuit of a $10-million libel lawsuit against entertainer Arsenio Hall--or because of the national NAACP's move to assume control of the Image Awards this year.
Benjamin Hooks, executive director of the national organization, sidestepped questions about Edwards' departure.
Earlier in the evening about 15 dissident members of the Beverly Hills-Hollywood branch of the NAACP, evidently unaware of Edwards' decision, carried placards in front of the Wiltern.
Connie Watson, leader of the Beverly Hills-Hollywood branch protesters, said the chapter is out of touch with black community issues, citing the Image Awards fete as a prime example.
"When they pay $100,000 for a tent with no heat and cold food, you know there's a problem in priorities," said Watson, who last year failed in an election bid to unseat Edwards. "You can pay all this for a party, but then you can't help enough children in L.A. Unified schools. They do the Image Awards once a year--and that's it."
Meanwhile, the show did go on, to a capacity crowd of 2,200, many of them paying $250 a seat to benefit the NAACP.
NBC's "A Different World" earned three awards: for an episode on date rape titled "No Means No"; for the performance of actor Kadeem Hardison in that episode; and for actress Jasmine Guy in the episode "For She's Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage."
After winning her award, Guy commented on the tenuous avenues open to black actresses in film and TV.
"I can do any role that a young woman can do," she said. "I don't think we (blacks) have got to the point where producers and Hollywood see us as just plain people. It always has to have black, and in front of my name it'll have young, black, light-skinned with long curly hair --by that time there are no roles for me. It's very frustrating because I'm always starting over."
Entertainer Sammy Davis Jr., his voice still raspy from throat-cancer surgery 14 weeks ago, provided perhaps the ceremony's most poignant moment as he accepted the Hall of Fame Award.
The Image Awards are to be televised Jan. 6 on NBC.
Other award winners were:
MUSIC--Best female artist: Stephanie Mills for "Home"; new artist, female: Karyn White for "Karyn White"; new artist, male: The Boys for "Messages From the Boys"; vocal group: Le Vert for "Just Coolin"'; jazz artist: Miles Davis for "Amandla"; blues artist: Bobby "Blue" Bland for "Midnight Run"; gospel artist: Bebe and Cece Winans for "Heaven"; rap artists: Heavy D & the Boyz for "Big Tyme"; reggae group: Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers for "One Bright Day"; male artist: Lou Rawls for "At Last"; album: Anita Baker's "Giving You the Best That I Got."
TELEVISION--best actor, drama: Howard Rollins in "In the Heat of the Night: Tear Down the Walls"; episode in a drama, mini-series or TV movie: "The Women of Brewster Place"; performance by a young actor: Keshia Knight Pulliam in "The Cosby Show: Can I Say Something, Please?"; variety show: "It's Showtime at the Apollo."
FILM--motion picture: "Lean on Me"; actor: Morgan Freeman in "Lean on Me"; supporting actor: Ossie Davis in "Do the Right Thing"; actress: Ruby Dee in "Do the Right Thing"; supporting actress: Suzzanne Douglas in "Tap."
SPECIAL--Jheryl Busby, president of Motown Records, President's Award; U.S. Rep. Ronald Dellums (D-Calif.), Roy Wilkins Civil Rights Award; U.S. Rep. Mickey Leland (posthumously), Key of Life Award; Special Awards to Ronald Brown, Dr. S. Allen Counter and deejay Casey Kasem; Jackie Joyner-Kersee and the late boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, Jackie Robinson Sports Achievement Award; Digital Equipment Corp., Corporate Award.