History of the NAACP Image Awards

  • The NAACP Image Awards were created in 1967 in an effort to celebrate each year's achievements by notable people of color in the realms of service, social justice, and entertainment, as determined by votes among members of the NAACP. The 53 Image Awards categories lay out honors ranging across film, television, music, literature, and activism. Each year, the ceremony takes place in February or March, in the Los Angeles area.

    Throughout the history of the organization, the mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has been dedication to the struggle for fairness, recognition, and opportunities for people of color, with emphasis on the African American community. Part of that struggle had been that against the limited opportunities available for Black entertainers, and their portrayal in the media. In 1915, the NAACP had led a national protest against D.W. Griffith's innovative yet controversial film, Birth of a Nation, which takes place in the aftermath of the Civil War and unfolds a plot that depicts criticism of the Reconstruction era that followed the war, and that relies heavily on the conveyance of the nation's newly freed slaves as savages.

    By the time of the 1939 release of Gone with the Wind, which also failed to present Black characters especially favorably - albeit not nearly as offensively as 1915's Birth of a Nation - the NAACP was still disgruntled with the roles available to Blacks and the presentation of Black people that such films conveyed. Even when Hattie McDaniel became the first Black person to win an Oscar, Best Supporting Actress, for her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind, Black entertainers and the NAACP believed there remained substantial room for progress.

    In the aftermath of the protest targeting Birth of a Nation, a small group of Black filmmakers emerged during the years of 1915-1949 to release "race films," which were films starring Black actors in roles contrary to those more commonly depicted in the media and entertainment. These films depicted Black characters as doctors, lawyers, teachers, and romantic figures. By the 1950s, however, the challenges of limited finances and distribution caused production of these films to cease. With the onset of television, concern about role for Blacks and portrayals of Blacks grew into an even greater concern.

    In 1951, the NAACP launched a campaign against producers, distributors, and sponsors of television series they felt presented Black people in manners that were stereotypical and degrading, such as 1951's Amos and Andy, a new series in which the antics of several black characters were the focus, and struck its critics not as an indication of progress, but as an offensive perpetuation of stereotypes. Though the show was the first series in the history of television with an all-black cast - and would be the only one having aired during primetime for about another twenty years - protest against the show led to its cancellation after only two seasons.

    By 1963, the NAACP had also launched an active nationwide campaign to strengthen opportunities available to Black film and television actors, including negotiations between the organization's Labor Secretary and the Motion Picture Producers Association and AFL-CIO International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, with support from the Screen Actors Guild and Writers Guild of America.

    Finally, in 1960s, the NAACP's Hollywood branch developed the idea for the NAACP Awards, to promote excellence within the industry of Black entertainment, and to honor Black creators, artists, entertainers, and their supporters in a way that no other segment of the industry seemed willing to. The first awards ceremony took place in 1967. By 1980, studies still showed that despite advancements that the Civil Rights movement had achieved in the realms of suffrage, education, and employment, the progress made in the realm of entertainment were not significant.

    During the NAACP Image Awards ceremony of the year 2000, Steven Spielberg acknowledged onstage that the film industry did have a need to recognize its faults and shortcomings when it came to such minimal diversity as still existed in every aspect of production - and furthermore, needed to take active measures to rectify those faults.

    The awards ceremony was first nationally televised in 1974, becoming one of the first major crystal awards specifically honoring minorities. Beginning in 1981, the awards show broadcast in the place of Saturday Night Live, but since 1996 has been a major programming event during primetime hours on the Fox television network. Until 2007, the broadcast had aired on a delay, but beginning that year, the ceremony has broadcast live.

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