The NAACP Image Awards will return to in-person programming this year, promising a star-studded night featuring some of the biggest names in entertainment, from Issa Rae to Jonathan Majors and host Queen Latifah.
However, as NAACP leadership reveals, this year marks significant milestones in the organization’s involvement and recent expansion to include a breadth of creators of color across entertainment platforms.
“The goal of the Image Awards has always been to highlight Black excellence in the entertainment community, particularly those individuals that are showing the unique, diverse and dynamic nature of who we are as a community,” Derrick Johnson, President & CEO of the NAACP, tells ESSENCE. “We are excited to be back in person after being in COVID [restrictions] for the past two years.”
Johnson says this year’s in-person ceremony is particularly exciting given the new changes that have been implemented to recognize even more creatives across the ever-expanding media industry.
“Over the last four years, we have been evaluating whether or not we have truly honored the totality of our contributions to the entertainment industry,” Johnson continues. “So, over time, we’ve added categories such as costume design to sound quality. We want to make sure that the contributions that we are making as a whole are captured.”
This year’s event sees the categories of hair, makeup, and costume design specifically. As Karen Boykin-Towns, Vice Chair of the NAACP National Board of Directors notes, it’s important for creators of color in these fields, in particular, to be highlighted for their work and achievements.
“We know how tough it is to get in the union of these industries and how this would allow for there to be more visibility and recognition and celebration of those who have this talent and make a mark in this industry,” she says.
On top of this new change, previous years have seen the addition of podcast platforms, international songs and motion pictures, and even reality television programming.
“I would say that the times that we live in really influence those areas where we believe there is interest, where there should be recognition because there’s excellence happening in those places,” she continues. “We want to be sure to uplift those in our community who are [involved] in it.”
“Our goal has always been to be an advocacy voice in the entertainment community,” says Johnson. “We understand how we are seen on the screen as how we are treated in public policy and in the streets.”
With that understanding, the NAACP’s Hollywood Bureau turns 20 this year. Though it was originally conceptualized as a checks and balances system of sorts, the Bureau has elevated into a resource for creators.
“We have been able to accelerate our presence through a joint venture deal with CBS studios where we’re now in the business of producing and developing content, as opposed to only raising questions about content,” says Johnson.
“I should note that projects that come, they just don’t go to CBS. Our deal allows for us to shop them at Hulu or Netflix or ABC or whomever,” Boykin-Towns adds. “So that really allows us to be a resource in that particular way and we’re really excited about this role that we get to play.”
“We are in a battle of images and there’s no larger player in that than Hollywood. To be able to have this position is really important and one that we are not taking lightly and really excited about some of the projects that are coming out of this deal.”
The 54th annual NAACP Image Awards airs on February 25 The 54th NAACP Image Awards will air LIVE on Saturday, February 25 at 8:00 PM on BET and across all Paramount Global networks.