NAACP Image Awards highlight the power of diversity

Taraji P. Henson of TV's "Empire" accepts an NAACP Image Award for best actress in a drama series.

Taraji P. Henson of TV’s “Empire” accepts an NAACP Image Award for best actress in a drama series.

(Frederick M. Brown /Getty Images)

As Taraji P. Henson took home the prize for outstanding actress in a drama series at the NAACP Image Awards on Friday night, she left viewers and the audience with a little something as well: “We don’t have to ask for acceptance from anyone,” the star of Fox’s hit soap “Empire” told the crowd at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. “We are enough and we’ve always been enough.”

Henson -- whose “Empire” husband, Terrence Howard, also won a top acting prize -- didn’t have to spell out who she was referring to.

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The 47th Annual Image Awards ceremony, which honors people of color in the entertainment industry, arrives amid a widespread debate over diversity in this year’s Academy Award nominations.


Director Spike Lee, who has said he will not attend the Feb. 28 Oscar telecast as part of a boycott to protest the lack of diversity in the major acting categories, was seen in a reaction shot as singer John Legend gave an impassioned speech about racism.

Friday’s two-hour ceremony, telecast live on TV One, started off with a musical number. Host Anthony Anderson was costumed as 1990s-era Ice Cube and rapping as part of the group N.W.A.

“Don’t call it a comeback,” Anderson said after he shed the costume, paraphrasing another rapper, LL Cool J. “We’ve been here for years.”

Later in the evening, Anderson won his second Image award as the patriarch in ABC’s family sitcom “black-ish,” and the show also took the top prize for comedy. Tracee Ellis Ross -- daughter of Diana Ross -- took the comedy actress award for playing Anderson’s wife on the series. “Empire” won for top drama.

“Straight Outta Compton” took the top prize for motion pictures, while Sanaa Lathan was picked as outstanding movie actress for her performance in “The Perfect Guy.”

Perhaps the night’s biggest winner was Michael B. Jordan, who won for his starring role in the boxing film “Creed” and also won as Entertainer of the Year.


Anderson gave a shout-out to Will Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, joking that the pair -- who have also vowed to boycott the Oscars -- “better be here after all that ‘ish’ they started.”

Stacey Dash -- a star of the film “Clueless” who has angered many with her views as a Fox News commentator -- earned a special jab. Anderson called her “Ann Coulter dipped in butterscotch.”

Perhaps the strongest comments from the first half of the ceremony came from singer Legend, who called for “radical change” after winning the NAACP President’s Award, presented by the civil rights group’s leader, Cornell William Brooks.

“I accept this award with deep humility and gratitude,” Legend said. He criticized “a criminal justice system that over-polices us” and lamented a world in which “the color of our skin conjures the image of threat and violence.”


The current adversity offers an opportunity, Legend said. He added: “Let’s not waste it.”

Twitter: @scottcollinsLAT


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