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49th NAACP Image Awards - Show

Source: Earl Gibson III / Getty

Part of being African-American is a performance of redemption. That’s being redeemed in the eyes of society at large for the great sin of being Black. And it’s performing with grace and gall in a life where the odds might be stacked against you.

Each winner and nominee at the NAACP Image Awards has faced a similar struggle, where being excellent despite the odds is the crucible in which their successes were formed. No other demographic embodies these triumphs like Black women, and with each movement that has transformed our world over the past year, Black women have been at the head. The Black Lives Matter movement and the #MeToo movement both originated with Black women. And it was Ava DuVernay’s win for Entertainer Of The Year that helped cement the realization that Black women have largely taken the mantle of Dr. King’s legacy since his passing. It was his wife, Coretta Scott-King, of course, who rallied for a day to celebrate the man who gave America back its soul.

From Oprah’s blockbuster speech at the Golden Globes to Ava’s speech at the NAACP Image Awards, the emphasis on women and inclusion has seen a gradual shift in the soul of Black folks. A shift that’s been happening at the Image Awards for years, as more women and LGBTQ+ members of the community, are nominated. This year inched ever closer to a more evenly distributed paradigm. Off camera, SZA owned best new artist in a field that included Vic Mensa and Khalid. Girl’s Trip won Outstanding Motion Picture among competition like Get Out, Roman J. Israel, Esq, and Detroit. As we all know, Tiffany Haddish’s breakout role had been all but ignored by the Golden Globes but won redemption at the Image Awards.

And redemption was heavy at these awards. Charlie Wilson walked away with the “Music Makes A Difference” award for both his own personal story and his philanthropy, which serves to help those in need out of drug abuse and homelessness. He’s gone from nothing to something more than once, and seeing his faith shine through was one of the most powerful images at the awards. Redemption for STARZ and 50 Cent’s Power, as well, since the drug kingpin drama snagged multiple awards, including Omari Hardwick’s take of Outstanding Actor In A Drama Series against stiff competition from Sterling K. Brown and others and the show grabbing the Outstanding Drama award, period. To say Power has been embattled would be an understatement. 50 Cent and STARZ have been in a sparring match over the show, with the latter claiming it’s been treated differently from other series at the network. Famously, he said he would pull the show. Danny Glover’s work in labor is nothing short of redemptive, as well, especially for the people whose lives he’s quietly changed over the course of his sterling career.

And above all, redemption is the spirit through which we watch the 49th NAACP Image Awards on Martin Luther King Jr. day, all of us working within the legacy left behind by that man and a society that still has its fingers pressed to the throats of many of us. Congratulations to Ava DuVernay on her win for Entertainer Of The Year, and, as she said in her speech, congratulations to us for being here through this torrent of great Black art, and, maybe more than ever, for having the ability to change the world the way Dr. King would have encouraged us to do.

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