The 43rd Annual NAACP Image Awards was an evening of recognition, celebration and tribute, honoring achievements in movies, television, music and literature while remembering those we’ve lost, singling outWhitney Houston in a moving musical rendition of “I Love the Lord” from Yolanda Adams, backed by a choir. As many expected, The Help took Outstanding Motion Picture as well as wins for actresses Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.
“It’s important for me to tell this story because I felt that maids hadn’t been humanized before. I feel like my mother’s and my grandmother’s lives have been acknowledged,” said Davis. “I love the fact that these women went on a journey, and became extraordinary heroes.” Stunning in a décolletage-baring tangerine Herve LeRoux gown, she talked about the “roller coaster” she’s been on lately, wishing she could get more sleep. “My mantra is ‘February 27th.’ That’s when I get back to being truly who I am as an actor and a mother and a wife. Everything that’s happened this season I enjoy, I embrace fully, but I understand what’s real.”
The Help’s three awards were matched by Jumping the Broom, whose stars Laz Alonso and Mike Eppswon, as did director Salim Akil (also a winner for co-writing The Game).
“I’m truly honored that my peers have recognized my work,” said Alonso, praising the NAACP for pioneering diversity in casting. He’s now producing his own projects, including one about post-earthquake Haiti. Epps, thrilled to score with his first-ever nomination, is working on a standup special to be filmed for theatrical release and will be seen this summer in Sparkle, Whitney Houston’s last film. He thinks it will be a fitting final filmed legacy. “She was a great actress,” he said.
Tracee Ellis Ross and Malcolm-Jamal Warner both won for their BET series Reed Between the Lines. “I’m so happy to bring family comedy back to TV. It’s so much fun to play a happily married woman,” Ross said in her acceptance speech. There were other double winners, including Jennifer Hudson, who performed “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” with Ne-Yo as part of the tribute to George Lucas (Red Tails) and the Tuskeegee Airmen, several surviving members of which were in the audience. Hudson won for her album I Remember Me and music video “Where You At.” Kirk Franklin, whose gospel performance closed the show, was another double winner, for his album Hello Fear and song “I Smile.”
Three former child stars added to their already considerable Image Award collections. Keshia Knight Pulliam, who first won back in 1988 for The Cosby Show, took home her fourth overall and third for Tyler Perry’s House of Payne (which won for Outstanding Comedy Series) and Keke Palmer scored for the fourth time for her work in True Jackson, VP. Her first was in 2007 for Akeelah and the Bee. Tatyana Ali, who first won for The Fresh Prince of Bel Air in 1996, got her second Image Award for The Young and the Restless.
“Their fight has allowed me to do what I love to do and be here tonight,” said Pulliam of the NAACP. “It’s such an honor to be nominated and even more to win.” Chic in a purple satin Dolce & Gabbana dress, Louboutin shoes and Erica Courtney jewels, she talked about the girls’ camp, Camp Kizzy, that she runs at her alma mater, Spelman College, and the fact that she had to miss attending Whitney Houston’s funeral service at the church they both attended in New Jersey. “My heart goes out to her family. I know she’s smiling down on all of this and feels the love,” Pulliam said. “She’s left us with such an amazing gift.”
“Every time I come here I feel great. This is my fifth one but it still feels like the first,” said Palmer, wearing a bright pink strapless gown she called “the perfect blend of adult and youth.” She’ll voice teenage mammoth Peaches in Ice Age 4, and she has a movie she’s starring in and producing for Nickelodeon.
“This is absolutely my favorite award show because we all get a chance to have our stories told and that’s necessary in a soul kind of way, and to celebrate that is like filling up your gas tank so you can go do it again next year,” said Ali. She has several films coming up including Dysfunctional Friends with Stacey Dash and Persia White.
Both LL Cool J and Regina King were repeat winners, having won acting awards for NCIS: Los Angelesand Southland last year. “I’m very grateful and humbled, very thankful. It’s always great to get recognized by everyone but by your community and family,” said LL, who was enjoying a far less stressful night than he had as the host of the Grammys last weekend. King, in a shimmery red Romona Keveza gown, acknowledged the importance of the Image Award. “Most of the people that are recognized by the NAACP don’t get the opportunity to be recognized. The NAACP provides a forum for that to happen,” she said.
Nominated for their drama series Person of Interest and CSI: NY respectively, double nominees Taraji P. Henson and Hill Harper won in different categories, she for the Lifetime movie Taken From Me and he for his book The Wealth Cure, which brings his Image Award total to seven, split between his home and office. Involved in the Obama re-election campaign, he’s planning to host voter registration events in Virginia and other states.
Jill Scott, Laurence Fishburne, James Pickens Jr., and the independent film Pariah were among the other winners on the show, hosted by Sanaa Lathan and Anthony Mackie. Afterward, many of the stars including Keke Palmer, Holly Robinson-Peete, and India.Arie stopped in to get gift bags at the Backstage Creations Celebrity Retreat before heading off to after-parties.