What The NAACP Image Award Nominations Tell Us About The State of Black Entertainment

December 12, 2014  |  

So yesterday the NAACP announced the nomination for the 46th annual Image Awards and as no surprise, any artist, who is Black – or just so happened to be around Black people – and had any type of role on a television series or film, got nominated. Even the extras.

I say that in both jest but in all seriousness the NAACP Image awards are like a yearly reminder of how not far we have come in Hollywood. I personally struggled for years to figure out how the NAACP has been able to fill in nomination forms for all of its award categories particularly in area of film and television, when there aren’t that many Black people on television anyway? Even if the individaul Image Award category has five nominations, there is always at least one head scratcher in the group whom you can tell was thrown in because folks couldn’t think of any body else.

And this is why you have series like “House of Cards,” a show with nothing directly to do with Black folks and only has two Black people on it (one is a cook, who stays in the kitchen the majority of his time on screen), nominated for Outstanding Drama Series, along with “Being Mary Jane” (BET), “Grey’s Anatomy” (ABC), “How to Get Away with Murder” (ABC), and “Scandal” (ABC).

Or why three of the actresses nominated for the Outstanding Actress On a Comedy Series (more specifically, Adrienne C. Moore, Laverne Cox and Lorraine Toussaint) all are stars of the same series, “Orange is the New Black.” And more importantly why the word “outstanding” is being used to describe “Real House Husbands of Hollywood,” which was nominated for best comedy.

It’s funny and sad at the same time. And these head-scratching nominations exist beyond the realm of film and television. For instance the outstanding female artist list for this year includes Alicia Keys, who hasn’t had an album out since 2013 (Vh1 Storytellers). Likewise, three other female vocalist nominees including Ledisi, Mary J Blige and Jennifer Hudson, who all put out albums this year, but not too many people – outside of your mom and those who stay tuned into the adult urban contemporary radio stations (i.e. the stations your mom likes to listen to) – were really checking for those albums this year.

That’s no shade to any of those artists, who I believe are all spectacular. But I also believe the nominations do reveal a lack of awareness about other Black female vocalists, who also had albums in 2014 including other Black vocalists in other genres of music besides Black folk’s top three (R&B, Jazz and Gospel). It should be noted that not a single female hip hop artist was nominated for an Image Award including Nikki Minaj or Azealia Banks. That’s not only reflective of a generation gap, but after well over 30 years of the genre’s existence, it also shows that our “image” is still very much entrenched in respectability politics. I mean, what’s not inspiring about two strong, self-made and outspoken Black women, making good of themselves in a world that encourages women to be less than?

But more importantly, it also shows just how scant the selection of major label female artists within the the big three has become over the years. Outside of a few new Black female artists (which by the way all have been nominated by the NAACP for best female new artist), I’m pretty hard pressed to think of anyone else, who had an album this year.

According to the NAACP’s website, the Image Awards were founded in 1967 as a way to “celebrating the outstanding achievements and performances of people of color in the arts, as well as those individuals or groups who promote social justice through their creative endeavors.” But over the years, the awards show has teetered on the lines of an popularity contest, likely aimed at attracting dollars and eyes to the show. Nothing illustrates this phenomenon more than last year’s disgraceful nomination of Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke, who are not only not Black or people of color, but hadn’t done jack shit for Black people or any other people of color.

With so much competition from the gazillion of other more prominent televised award shows, you really can’t fault the NAACP for its strategy. It’s a matter of survival. However for the sake of the “image” it is probably best for the organization to look beyond big labels for representation and instead, promote and honor our own “outstanding.”

And I’m talking online. Thanks to digital technology and platform, Black creatives, including filmmakers, television series producers, musicians and writers have all been able to go around restrictive Hollywood and produce tons of quality content on their own. Likewise, many of these creatives also have huge followings. Without looking elsewhere like the digital community, the award show makes itself obsolete by not being truly reflective of where Black folks consume and create most of its artistry now. And as such, it does a less than “outstanding” job of representing our image as the industry it polices.

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