Why Issa Rae & Viola Davis’ Big Wins At The NAACP Image Awards Matter

Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images for NAACP Image Awards
Issa Rae, winner of Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series category speaks at the 52nd NAACP Image Awards virtual press conference on March 27, 2021
It’s easy to root for everybody Black at the NAACP Image Awards, a show specifically created to honor the achievements of Black artists and entertainers of color. In the middle of an awards season riddled with controversy (we’re looking at you, Hollywood Foreign Press Association) and some incremental change (the Oscars aren’t so white this year), the 52nd NAACP Image Awards served as a refreshing celebration of the best of the best in Black excellence, as it does every year. 
“It means the world to me. It’s the only validation that matters — Black people’s validation — so I really appreciate the NAACP for honoring us,” Issa Rae said while accepting the award for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series for Insecure during Saturday’s televised broadcast (other winners were announced throughout the week leading up to the show). This win comes after Rae and her beloved HBO series was completely shut out from nominations at the Golden Globes and snubbed in the comedy categories at the Emmys. In a virtual press conference after the NAACP awards, Rae spoke about what she hopes to see from other award shows in the future. “I just want the awards to feel like the NBA Finals, where there’s no question of who’s the best, there’s no question that the people who make it to the playoffs and the finals deserve to be there. Nobody got paid off, nobody is fluff, you know that you’re being honored because you created a great piece of work and I don’t think that’s too much to ask for,” she said over Zoom. “I just want the awards and the people behind the scenes to vote based on merit and I don’t think we’re there yet, but hopefully we’ll get there one day.” 
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I just want the awards to feel like the NBA Finals, where there’s no question of who’s the best, there’s no question that the people who make it to the playoffs and the finals deserve to be there.

ISSA RAE
If the NAACP Awards were the NBA Finals, its undisputed MVP would be Viola Davis, who took home two awards during the show: Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series for How to Get Away with Murder and Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. Davis accepted her NAACP awards remotely with her husband, Julius Tennon, by her side. The pair also took on the press room together after the show. “Thank God for the NAACP Image Awards,” Davis told R29 Unbothered when asked about the show’s significance. “[Without it], we would still stay in the cloak of invisibility.” The importance of the visibility that this award show gives Black creators and entertainers cannot be overstated, but the fact that it is still an outlier in the industry speaks to Hollywood’s long history of systemic racism. 
Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images for NAACP Image Awards
Viola Davis and her husband Julius Tennon during the virtual press conference for the 52nd NAACP Image Awards.
“What I will say about Hollywood is the same thing I say about Black history in that actors and artists of color, we are artists,” Davis continued. “We belong in the same conversation as everyone else. Because a lot of times we are forgotten or not held in as much esteem as our white counterparts is why we need the NAACP image awards. It’s why we need the Essence luncheon.” Davis went on to say that the narrative that has undervalued creators of color in the past is changing, thanks to the work of Black artists. “We are now harnessing all of our talent, all of our ingenuity and we are literally demanding to be seen.” 
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I don’t know if I would say I look forward to the day when there’s no NAACP Image Awards... but I look forward to the day when we no longer have to teach people how to see us.

viola davis
That demand is usually directed at white institutions like the aforementioned Oscars and Golden Globes  — add the Grammys to the list too — but when there is a show like the NAACP Image Awards that does meet the call for long-overdue Black recognition, the industry needs to treat it with the same reverence it does those other shows. We can’t blast the HFPA for refusing to acknowledge Black creators and then ignore the NAACP when it does. As Rae put it, this should be the “validation that matters.” During Saturday’s broadcast, winners like Rae, Davis and Bridgerton’s Regé-Jean Page, who won Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series, proved that the best and brightest in Hollywood period were rightly given their flowers. Page seemed sincerely shocked and adorably hyped to win as he gave a breathless acceptance speech about representation: “It is the highest honor, the highest honor, to represent us in the fullness of our humanity, of our beauty, of our joy, of our glamour, of our splendor, of our royalty, of our romance, of our love.”
Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images for NAACP Image Awards
Regé-Jean Page, winner of Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series, speaks at the 52nd NAACP Image Awards virtual press conference.
We know that there are limits to representation and that awards shows won’t fix the deep-rooted issues in Hollywood, but for one night, the NAACP gave Black performers the joyful commemoration they deserve. Other big winners included DJ D-Nice for Entertainer Of the Year, Eddie Murphy was inducted into the NAACP Hall of Fame and the late Chadwick Boseman won Outstanding Actor In a Motion Picture. Boseman’s wife Taylor Simone Ledward accepted the award on his behalf and gave an emotional plea for the Black community to get screened for colon cancer, the disease that killed her husband and disproportionately affects Black people. Ledward’s speech was one of many poignant moments throughout the show ,which had presenters appearing from various locations in Los Angeles, New York, and Atlanta that are historically significant to Black culture. The Anthony Anderson-hosted broadcast (which was smoother and more tightly produced than most pandemic award shows) had depth, humor and was undoubtedly Black. 
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Davis said she longs for the day “when our talent can be embraced as much as our white counterparts.” If that day comes, does that mean there will no longer be a need for the NAACP Image Awards? I think we’re always going to have to create spaces to celebrate ourselves, but I’ll let Davis have the final word: 
 “I don’t know if I would say I look forward to the day when there’s no NAACP Image Awards because, listen, we’re dope, but I look forward to the day when we no longer have to teach people how to see us.” 
Here’s a full list of the winners for the 52nd NAACP Image Awards live broadcast:
Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series
Regé-Jean Page – “Bridgerton”
Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series
Viola Davis – “How To Get Away With Murder”
Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series
Issa Rae – “Insecure”
Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture
Viola Davis – “Ma Rainey's Black Bottom”
Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture
Chadwick Boseman – “Ma Rainey's Black Bottom”
Outstanding Motion Picture
“Bad Boys For Life”
Chairman's Award
Rev. D. James Lawson
President’s Award
LeBron James
Hall of Fame Award
Eddie Murphy
Entertainer of the Year
D-Nice
Social Justice Impact
Stacey Abrams

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