Why Are The BET Awards Shutting Out Women Performers?

A lot of the excitement around the 2018 BET Awards is thanks to two legitimately buzz-worthy promised performances: one by Nicki Minaj and another by Janelle Monae. Over the last decade, both women have proven they have unquestionable superstar cred and talent; the kind you can build award shows around. BET wouldn’t have promoted these women’s upcoming appearances as much as they did if they weren’t sure they created the same kind of eyeball-catching interest fellow 2018 performers like the Migos or a recently freed Meek Mill would.
Considering how much BET has hyped Minaj and Monae’s performances, you would expect them to show as much support to other women artists. After all, they clearly see the obvious value in these boundary-breaking ladies. Yet, when you pull back and look at everything from the pre-show red carpet to the 2018 nominees, it soon becomes clear that the awards show refuses to truly invest in the women promoting Black excellence every day.
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The BET pre-show, hosted by Terrence J and an oftentimes quiet Cassie, was a lengthy two hours, switching between a long string of concert performances and traditional on-camera interviews. It would be easy to fill that time with a vast array of exciting up-and-coming performers, since that’s what the show is essentially billed as. Yet, the performances actually amounted to back-to-back-to-back showcases for on-the-rise Black men like Diddy’s son King Combs and Drake collaborator BlocBoy JB (who did not convince the 6ix God to join him). It often seemed the only way women performers could get on stage was if they were ready to don some black athleisure and join one of the male rappers as a nameless backup dancer.
The problem here isn’t that men were given their time to shine. It’s that up-and-coming women rappers and hip-hop artists also deserve their moment in the very hot L.A. sun. Dej Loaf, the voice behind On My Block’s perfect “Changes” and perfect new Leon Bridges collab “Liberated,” walked the red carpet. While OMB fans have been singing Dej’s praises for months, it’s not like she doesn’t deserve a little extra attention as much as the men who popped up on the pre-show. She could have performed as well. BlocBoy JB has a single with the biggest rap artist in the world, and he was still allowed into the mix.
The sole femme performance of the two-hour-long pre-show was given to longtime New Orleans queer bounce diva Big Freedia, who opened the show. The appearance seemed to be an attempt to make up for the fact that the rapper is often erased from the headline making music she performs in. She might have opened Beyoncé’s iconic “Formation” in 2016, but she wasn’t invited to appear in the instantly viral video. The same goes for Freedia’s killer feature on Drake’s “Nice For What.” Everyone from Rashida Jones and Tiffany Haddish to Yara Shahidi and Letitia Wright was given a cameo in that music video… but Freedia remained missing.
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Finally, Freedia, someone who has been performing for decades, was allowed to show face for the hard work she’s been doing for years. Usually, letting someone like Freedia open a show stands as a statement for what’s to come. Instead, all of that unapologetically queer, feminine energy was depleted by a dizzingly long line of men.
The focus on the men the BET Awards deems worthy of attention continues when you look at the actual show. Beyoncé proteges Chloe X Halle are the only women nominated in their category, Best Group. Ava DuVernay is the only woman up for Video Director Of The Year. SZA’s CTRL is the only album by a woman in the running for Album of the Year. It is impossible that these amazing women are the only talented Black women in these categories. Similarly, it’s impossible the songs Rihanna is a mere featured artist on, Kendrick Lamar duet “Loyalty” and summer 2017 banger “Wild Thoughts,” deserve multiple nominations, while the song she is a lead performer on, “Lemon,” is not.
It seems the BET Awards have realized they have a blindspot when it comes to women, and have responded with the first-ever BET Her Awards, which went down this past Thursday. The show properly celebrated Black women and gave statues to the likes of Insecure’s Yvonne Orji and all-around celebrity La La Anthony. But, Black women don’t deserve the BET Awards version of the Oscars’ Sci-Tech Awards, which everyone hears about but never sees. No, Black women deserve to be front and center when everyone’s tuning in. Not just in a lovely, TV camera-free banquet hall days before the actual show.
Hopefully, viewers will get that soon. After the MTV Movie & TV Awards, maybe BET should ask Tiffany Haddish for some help?
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