Fantasia, Taraji, Damson & More (Finally!) Get Their Due At The 55th NAACP Image Awards

Photo: Paras Griffin/Getty Images/BET.
Fantasia Barrino brought the 55th NAACP Image Awards to church. In the final moments of her acceptance speech for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture on Saturday (March 16), Barrino thanked her mother while holding up her award and declaring, “This does not make me, but I thank you for it,” before launching into an emotional rendition of “To God Be The Glory." With Barrino belting out each note as only she can, the crowd leapt to its feet. The camera cut to the audience and Ghosts actress Danielle Pinnock cheered with her arms raised over her head, Ryan Michelle Bathe shook her head in awe sitting beside her husband Sterling K. Brown, and Sabrina and Idris Elba looked on side stage with pride in their eyes. It was a moment — one that did not, and could not, have happened at any other awards show this season. 
The scene of Barrino on that stage (in a stunning black and white ensemble) singing her gratitude to the sky couldn’t have played out anywhere else logistically because she wasn’t nominated for her work as Celie in The Color Purple at most of the other shows, but also spiritually, the vibe in the room at the NAACP Image Awards hits different. Barrino was surrounded by her peers — her Black entertainment family — and it was clear the ease at which she slipped into turning her speech into a Sunday service came with the comfort of knowing everyone in that room would get it. They would understand. They would see her. 
It was a sentiment echoed by other honorees during the Image Awards broadcast. “Thank you NAACP for always seeing me, making me feel seen, ” Outstanding Supporting Actress winner Taraji P. Henson said during her speech. Throughout the press run for The Color Purple, Henson was open about her financial struggles in the industry and spoke candidly about the pay gap for Black women in Hollywood. “I just thank you guys so much for showing up for me all the time, not just to the box office or watching what I’m in. Y’all saw what happened and y’all showed up… you showed me love,” she said. This came after host Queen Latifah shouted out Henson in her monologue, thanking her for “standing up for all of us” and after she made a clip that the only thing not feeling inflation was “equal pay for Black actresses.” Henson continued her speech by reflecting on how hard it was to speak up about being paid less than her white counterparts. “It’s a scary thing to speak your truth but I urge you all to speak your truth because at the end of the day, that’s all we have,” she said. “And like they say, ‘the truth will set you free.’ And not only that, it will set somebody else free.’” The power of living authentically to inspire others to do the same was a running theme throughout the night. 
Photo: Robin L Marshall/Getty Images/BET.
On the red carpet before the show, Michelle Buteau, NAACP award winner for Outstanding Breakthrough Creative (Television) for Survival of the Thickest, shared what the support of Black women who finally saw themselves in her show meant to her. “When I say it’s everything, I really mean everything,” Buteau shared with Unbothered. “How are we supposed to feel safe and seen at every corner? We’re adults now but there’s so many other generations behind us and it is our duty to inform them too. It isn’t just about going to a store and finding your size, it’s about really loving yourself at any age and size and shape and shade,” Buteau said. “When there’s intention behind everything that you do, for me, it speaks to me much louder and clearer and more vibrant.” 
If there’s one thing the NAACP Image Awards are going to deliver, it’s vibrancy. Danielle Pinnock, shining in a bright green floral gown, spoke to Unbothered about what the awards show means to her. “This event means so much to me. I’ve had it on my vision board for so long. To be in the room with all this Black excellence. It’s like I finally have a seat at the table.” 
Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images.
When that table is one built by Black folks, it hits different. “One thing the world can always use more of is unity and especially when it comes to our people, we can do better with that. I think this event really promotes unity and respect,” actor and singer Trevor Jackson said on the carpet. “This industry will try to make you feel like there can only be one Black person doing this and I think this event [recognizes] what we all do and that we all do it at a very high level. What’s meant for you is meant for you.” 
The award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series was meant for Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story star India Amarteifio, whose work felt criminally overlooked throughout awards season (give her an Emmy for her delivery of this line alone!), but on the carpet before the show, she was humble and focused on the work. "I think awards are difficult. Our industry is so saturated and there's so much good TV and film. Things often get overlooked... for me, we did our job and the audience, the people the viewed it were happy and that's all I could ever want. Awards are a bonus but they aren't what gives us our love."
Diarra from Detroit actress Dominque Perry was all about feeling the love in the room. “It’s beautiful because a lot of times we don’t get celebrated and over hundreds of years a lot of Black women haven’t been celebrated as much so to come to a place where we all can dress up, look beautiful, hug each other, and encourage one another, it’s a dream come true.” 
Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images.
Damson Idris was one of the artists whose dreams came true during the awards show. After six seasons, the Snowfall actor finally got the love he deserved for his role and won Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series. “My mother, she flew from Lagos, Nigeria — 17 hours to be here with me tonight,” he said. “Before she got on the plane, she said, 'Damson, if I come to Los Angeles, you better win.'" The camera cut to his beaming mother, Philippa Idris, and all of us melted (just me?). Idris continued by thanking the actors who came before him in the category. "This award has been won by so many heroes of mine: James Earl Jones, Michael K. Williams, Laurence Fishburne — I'm honored to be standing amongst them,” he said. “I'm honored to be standing amongst you, people who inspire me every single day. People who make art that they could be proud of for the present, the past, [and] the future. Peace and love."
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 55th NAACP Image Awards live broadcast:
Entertainer of the Year: Usher
Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture: Fantasia Barrino, The Color Purple 
Photo: Kayla Oaddams/FilmMagic.
Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture: Colman Domingo, Rustin
Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture: Taraji P. Henson, The Color Purple
Outstanding Actress In A Comedy Series: Quinta Brunson, Abbott Elementary  
Outstanding Actress In A Comedy Series: Mike Epps, The Upshaws
Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series: India Amarteifio, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story
Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series: Damson Idris, Snowfall
Outstanding Motion Picture: The Color Purple 
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series: Gail Bean, Snowfall 

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