Every year, the NAACP Image Awards recognize the best Black talent in entertainment. Every year, it is the singular awards show that prioritizes the Black creative work that is often overlooked elsewhere. This year, when Black women gave the most standout performances of the year, and Black artists continued to create, dominate and drive the culture (as we do), the 54th Image Awards were right on time. And it’s about time the industry starts treating these awards with the same clout, respect, and adulation as every other prestigious honor in Hollywood. As Abbott Elementary’s Quinta Brunson said in her acceptance speech for Outstanding Comedy series, “There’s nothing like winning an NAACP [Image] award.”
The gratitude from Black celebs for being honored by their own community was palpable in the room for Saturday night’s televised broadcast, which Unbothered was fortunate enough to experience in person, and each winner expressed sentiments that affirmed the familial vibe of the event. Nicco Annan, who plays Uncle Clifford on P-Valley, thanked everyone in the audience and those watching at home for “dining at this family table,” and Entertainer of the Year Angela Bassett (who also won Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series) said, “Thank you, thank you to the NAACP for this award. It’s always a deep honor to receive this recognition from home, from family.” Bassett also referenced Ariana Debose’s viral rap from the BAFTA Awards by starting her speech with, “I guess Angela Bassett did the thing!” She then went on to acknowledge the Black directors who “assured me that there was a place for me as an actor” like Spike Lee, the late John Singleton, and Ryan Coogler, who took home the Image Awards for Outstanding Motion Picture.
This is what I'm talkin bout! 🙌🏾 Congrats to "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" for winning Outstanding Motion Picture. ✊🏾 #NAACPImageAwards pic.twitter.com/9tN2blSSc5— BET (@BET) February 26, 2023
“Gratitude is the universe’s way of saying that we are not existing in this world alone. You have each other. I love you, thank you,” Bassett said to raucous applause.
But there was one speech that silenced the room. When Gabrielle Union and Dwayne Wade took the stage to accept the NAACP President’s Award for their philanthropy and support of the LGBTQIA community, the typically rowdy room went quiet. Wade dedicated their win to their daughter, Zaya (she was granted the right to legally change her name and gender the day before their speech), and spoke directly to her about his pride and admiration for her courage to be unapologetically herself.
“As your father, my job isn’t to create a version of myself or direct your future,” Wade said. “My role is to be a facilitator to your hopes, your wishes and your dreams. Zaya, you’ve made me a better human just simply by being who you were born to be — a baby girl, Zaya Wade. So baby, thank you for showing the world what courage looks like. I’m proud that I was chosen to stand in place as your father, and thank you so much NAACP for this incredible honor.” Wade did what every father should do: be a strong pillar of support for their child, no matter who that child is. He didn’t set the bar higher. He reaffirmed that this level of unconditional parental love should be the standard.
Wade did what every father should do: be a strong pillar of support for their child, no matter who that child is. He didn’t set the bar higher. He reaffirmed that this level of unconditional parental love should be the standard.
While Wade’s emotional dedication had the crowd in tears, Union’s impassioned plea was more of a call to action. If Wade was there to make sure Zaya was heard and knew she was loved and supported, Union’s role was to push those in the room, and those watching, to make sure our communities do the same for Black trans kids everywhere. “Will we fight for some, or will we fight for all of our people?” Union asked. “Black trans people are being targeted, terrorized and hunted in this country. Every day everywhere. And there’s rarely a whisper about it.”
It's the Black love for me! 😍 Round of applause to @DwyaneWade and @itsgabrielleu on taking home President's Award! ✨ pic.twitter.com/qIxbFerodr— BET (@BET) February 26, 2023
“Let’s just name a couple hard truths,” Union’s tone shifted as the applause settled. She sounded hurt, justifiably angry, and on the verge of tears, and she dropped important knowledge to a rapt room. “First, the intersection of Black rights and the rights of the LGBTQIA trans and gender non-conforming people continues to be rough — that’s a huge understatement. Even as we demand equality at the top of our lungs, we consistently failed to extend our advocacy to protect some of our most vulnerable among us.”
She’s right, and she should say it! We know that when it comes to Black advocacy and calls for change, Black trans people are consistently left out of that narrative. Union brought an energy of frustration and desperation — both valid emotions as the parent of a trans teen — but she ended her speech on a note of hope. “[We are] hopeful that we may witness a real shift in the fight for justice, the moment the movement makes room for everyone. Everyone,” she said.
Wade and Union’s acknowledgement of the LGBTQIA community was just one of the emotional moments of the night. WNBA star Brittney Griner, who is finally free and home after being wrongfully imprisoned in Russia, made a surprise appearance with her wife, Cherelle Griner. "I want to thank everyone," Griner said. "And let's fight to bring home every American detained overseas." What people watching at home didn’t see was that during a commercial break, Griner was honored once again, and the audience full of stars like Tracee Ellis Ross, Janelle Monae, Issa Rae, and Jonathan Majors gave her another standing ovation as the cameras weren’t rolling.
Behind the scenes, celebs were mingling (we spotted Majors and Monae taking photos and chatting in between their presenting duties) and reveling in the celebratory nature of the evening. Viola Davis and Serena Williams also won awards during the broadcast, hosted by Queen Latifah. But one celeb made the biggest impression and had a line of other stars (like Marsai Martin) waiting to take photos with her: Zendaya. The NAACP Image Awards marked the Euphoria star's big return to the award show circuit (her first of the season), and she looked stunning in two vintage gowns — Versace for the red carpet and Prada for the show — while solidifying her spot as thee style icon of the moment.
Like they do every year, the NAACP Image Awards gave Black entertainers the respect, shine, and flowers they deserve.
Here’s a full list of the winners for the 54th NAACP Image Awards live broadcast:
Entertainer of the Year: Angela Bassett
Outstanding Comedy Series: Abbott Elementary
Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series: Angela Bassett, 9-1-1
Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series: Nicco Annan, P-Valley
Outstanding Motion Picture: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture: Will Smith, Emancipation
Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture: Viola Davis, The Woman King
NAACP President’s Award: Gabrielle Union and Dwayne Wade
Jackie Robinson Sports Award: Serena Williams