In what seems to be a historic year for diversity on television, increasing the number of people of color in Hollywood continues to be at the center of conversation. Monday night was no different as the Paley Center for Media hosted a Hollywood Tribute to African American Achievements in Television at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Though a celebratory event for the progress the industry has experienced, the event served as a reminder of countless advances still necessary.
“We’ve come a long way and have a long way to go,” said famed record producer Quincy Jones. “And we will go.”
Jones was one of the night’s honorees, for his musical contributions to TV spanning the discographies of Michael Jackson, Little Richard and Ella Fitzgerald. Also honored were Diahann Carroll, who, with 1968’s “Julia,” was the first African American actress to star in her own TV series as something other than a maid, and Black Entertainment Television (BET) on its 35th anniversary.
With locations in Los Angeles and New York, the Paley Center highlights the impact of media on society through a number of archival collections. The center’s African American collection of over 3,000 programs, for which Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. serves as special advisor, spans seven decades of television content.
“African American history is American history and one can’t be told without the other,” said Paley Center President Maureen Reidy while announcing a commitment to expand the collection. “The myriad of African American achievements in television are our shared American treasures.”
BET’s CEO, Debra Lee accepted the recognition for her network. In her speech, she remixed the tagline that has come to be associated with the social justice movement that took to the streets following the deaths of unarmed black people at the hands of police.
“Diversity on TV matters,” she said. “It mattered 35 years ago when Bob Johnson founded BET and it matters today. The fastest way to get to know another ethnic group or religion or people with different sexual orientations is to see them portrayed and represented on TV in a respectful and responsible way. I am proud that BET Networks has played such an important role in changing the face of television for 35 years.”
Also attending the event, cosponsored by JPMorgan Chase, were a number of notable black celebrities as both presenters and guests including Ava DuVernay, Brandy Norwood, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Tichina Arnold, Niecy Nash, Keegan-Michael Key, Regina King, Terrence Howard, Anthony Anderson, Tyler Perry and Tyra Banks.
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