NAACP Image Awards: Diversity, politics and a stunning ‘Selma’ snub

Spike Lee 46th NAACP Image Awards
Director Spike Lee sits across the aisle from Oprah Winfrey at the 46th NAACP Image Awards at Pasadena Civic Auditorium.
(Joe Scarnici / Getty Images)

Glitz and glamour were not the only things on the minds of celebrities at the 46th NAACP Image Awards on Friday.

In kicking off the ceremony in Pasadena, which honors excellence in film, TV, film and literature by artists of color, host Anthony Anderson wasted no time addressing a hot-button issue: Hollywood’s continuing struggles with diversity, particularly at the upcoming Academy Awards.

“People are up in arms because they feel the other awards shows have snubbed us,” Anderson said in opening TV One’s live broadcast from the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. “So what? We have our own show!”

He and a group of dancers then erupted into a jubilant parody of the hit, “Uptown Funk,” with the lyrics, “Forget the Oscars -- Hallelujah! Forget the Emmys -- Hallelujah! Forget the Globes -- Hallelujah!”


Director Spike Lee, a frequent Hollywood critic, was even more pointed during his acceptance of the organization’s President’s Award: “It’s a tough business .... This stuff is rigged, it’s not set up for us to win, it’s always been like that when we were stolen from Mother Africa.”

As Lee spoke, a camera zeroed in on Ava Duvernay, the director of best picture Oscar nominee “Selma,” about civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

The former publicist turned filmmaker has been a central figure in the diversity controversy, with many in the industry contending that she was unfairly shut out of an Oscar nomination for best director.

But most in the star-studded audience that included Oprah Winfrey, Laurence Fishburne and departing Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. may have been unaware that Image Award voters had delivered their own stunning snub of Duvernay just 24 hours earlier, bypassing her to give Antoine Fuqua the best director award for “The Equalizer.”


Fuqua was honored during the nontelevised portion of the awards. The rebuke of Duvernay clouded the film’s otherwise stellar showing, with wins for best picture, actor (David Oyelowo), supporting actress (Carmen Ejogo) and supporting actor (Common).

The bypassing of Duvernay was also puzzling since “The Equalizer,” starring Denzel Washington as a man with a mysterious past who wages a one-man war against gangsters threatening a young girl, received little critical acclaim when it was released last year and has been absent from the awards circuit.

While Duvernay has been highly praised for her work on “Selma,” she was a loser at the Golden Globes and did not receive a nomination from the Directors Guild. One of the only directing awards she has received for “Selma” was from the African American Film Critics Assn. which is run by one of her closest friends, Gil Robertson.

The furor over the recent killings of young black men at the hands of police was also introduced during the awards, as a recording of Marvin Gaye’s anthem “What’s Going On” played over slides of demonstrations protesting the deaths and athletes wearing T-shirts with the reading “I Can’t Breathe,” the words uttered by Eric Garner who was killed after being put in a chokehold by a New York police officer.

Twitter: @GeBraxton

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