The NAACP celebrated what it called the “Black Renaissance” at the Wiltern Theatre Saturday night, during the presentation of the 24th annual NAACP Image Awards. But during interviews backstage, several top black entertainers--including Arsenio Hall, singer Nancy Wilson and actresses Charnelle Brown (“A Different World”) and Janet Hubert (“Fresh Prince”)--chose instead to stress inroads yet to be made.
“We haven’t come full circle yet,” said 23-year-old writer-director John Singleton, whose coming-of-age film, “Boyz N the Hood,” was named outstanding motion picture, and who was recognized along with 14 other black film directors in a special tribute.
“Nineteen (black films) this year means nothing if there’s not 19 next year, or more,” Singleton said. “It means nothing if the quality of our work doesn’t increase.”
The black-tie awards show, created by the NAACP’s Hollywood branch in 1967 to recognize African Americans in the entertainment industry, was run by the nationwide NAACP for the first time this year.
Natalie Cole was the evening’s top winner, taking home three trophies as best female recording artist, best jazz artist and best music video for her surprise hit “Unforgettable,” featuring her late father, Nat King Cole.
Also a top winner was Arsenio Hall, who received a special Key of Life tribute for his work for human rights and won the best variety series award for “The Arsenio Hall Show.”
Hall, who was criticized by the NAACP in 1989 for not hiring enough blacks when he began his show, said backstage, “This is an important night for me. . . . I have come full circle, to find myself where I belong, with a certain kind of cohesiveness between me and the NAACP. I am where I belong, with my own people.”
Other multiple winners included singer Luther Vandross, who was named best male recording artist and won the best album award for “Power of Love,” and the O’Jays, who were named best vocal group and received a Hall of Fame Award along with the Four Tops, the Dells and the Temptations. In addition, rapper Will Smith won an award for best rap artist as part of DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, and his TV show, “Fresh Prince,” was named best comedy series.
Smith was the first of numerous winners to use his acceptance speech to encourage continued education in the black community: “I want to say to the kids, that these (winners tonight) aren’t people that just got lucky, these are people that worked at what they do . . . and education is the bottom line--anything you want to do comes through education.”
Among the numerous celebrities who received special tributes was basketball star Earvin (Magic) Johnson, who retired from the Los Angeles Lakers in November after testing positive for the virus that causes AIDS.
Also receiving a special tribute was Janet Jackson, given the chairman’s award for her work with illiteracy, drug abuse, violence and high school dropout prevention. Responding to a Philadelphia Tribune critic who said Jackson’s socially conscious “Rhythm Nation” video could accomplish “nothing,” Jackson broke into tears as she pointed to two recent high school graduates who shared the stage with her Saturday and gave her credit for keeping them in school.
Patti LaBelle was named entertainer of the year, “In the Heat of the Night” took best drama series honors and the group Boys II Men was named best new recording artist.
The show will be broadcast Jan. 25 on NBC.
Here is a complete list of winners:
* Entertainer of the year: Patti LaBelle.
* Motion picture: “Boyz N the Hood.”
* Actress, motion picture: Whoopi Goldberg, “The Long Walk Home.”
* Actor, motion picture: Wesley Snipes, “New Jack City.”
* Comedy series: “Fresh Prince.”
* Actor, comedy: Bill Cosby, “The Cosby Show.”
* Actress, comedy: Jasmine Guy, “A Diff’rent World.”
* Drama series: “In the Heat of the Night.”
* Actor, drama: James Earl Jones, “Gabriel’s Fire.”
* Actress, drama: Lynn Whitfield, “The Josephine Baker Story.
* Variety series: “The Arsenio Hall Show.”
* News, talk or information series: “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
* Album: Luther Vandross, “Power of Love.”
* Female recording artist: Natalie Cole.
* Male recording artist: Luther Vandross.
* Vocal group: The O’Jays.
* New recording artist: Boys II Men.
* Jazz artist: Natalie Cole.
* Rap artist: DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince.
* Gospel artist: BeBe and CeCe Winans.
* Music video: Natalie Cole, “Unforgettable.”
* Hall of Fame awards: The Four Tops, O’Jays, the Dells, the Temptations.
* Chairman’s award: Janet Jackson.
* Key of Life award: Arsenio Hall.
* Roy Wilkins civil rights award: Thurgood Marshall.
* Chairman’s journalism award: Bernard Shaw.
* Jackie Robinson sports award: Earvin (Magic) Johnson.
* Corporate award: A&M; Records.
* Special award, African-American motion picture directors: Charles Burnett, Bill Duke, Wendell Harris, George Jackson & Doug McHenry, Jamaa Fanaka, Romell Foster-Owens, Roland Jefferson, Charles Lane, Matty Rich, John Singleton, Robert Townsend, Topper Carew, Joseph B. Vasquez, Ron O’Neal.