The 54th NAACP Image Awards honored outstanding achievements in more than 80 categories. The broadcast opened with a bang, as the multi-talented artist, entrepreneur and the evening’s host Queen Latifah belted out “I Wanna Live Till I Die.” The song, recorded by Sarah Vaughan, was an upbeat, almost defiant message making it clear that nothing would put a damper on a night of praise.
Angela Bassett won “Entertainer of the Year,” in a category where all the nominees were women. “Abbott Elementary” won six awards, and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” won eight awards. The newest EGOT, Viola Davis, town her eighth NAACP Image Award for her starring role in “The Woman King,”
“Throughout the past year, we’ve witnessed Black artists showcasing our history and uplifting values of progressive change while redefining genres and bringing our stories to the forefront of entertainment in so many innovative ways,” said Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP when announcing the 2023 awards ceremony.
The Image Awards were established in 1967 to honor outstanding Black actors, actresses, writers, producers and directors working in Hollywood. The first Image Awards ceremony was organized by activists Maggie Hathaway, Willis Edwards and Sammy Davis Jr., all of whom were leaders of the Beverly Hills-Hollywood NAACP branch.
With over 80 categories, handing out all the awards during the live broadcast was impossible. Four days of awards ceremonies led to the actual televised event. Though a bit confusing to follow all the awardees, the process was reported through social media and the full list of award recipients is online.
Highlights From an Evening of Excellence
There were many “feel good” moments during the broadcast. Brittney Griner and her wife, Cherelle Griner, were introduced by Queen Latifah to a standing ovation and thunderous applause. The Image Awards was the first formal appearance for the WNBA player since her release from a Russian prison last December.
“It feels so good to be here, especially with my beautiful, amazing wife and with all of y’all here today,” said Brittney, “I want to thank everyone, and let’s keep fighting to bring home every American still detained overseas.”
Recently retired, 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams received the Jackie Robinson Sports Award for her stellar athletic achievements and contributions to social justice.
Chairman of the NAACP National Board of Directors Leon W. Russell presented his Chairman’s Award to Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Mississippi). The award recognized Thompson’s years working for voter’s rights, but also for his leadership over the committee investigating the January 6 insurrection.
The Social Justice Impact Award was given to attorney Benjamin Crump, who offered a rallying cry to not back down in pursuit of justice for all.
One of the most emotional moments was Johnson’s presentation of his President’s Award to Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union-Wade. The couple was recognized for their advocacy on LBGTQ+ and transgender issues. Their remarks were filled with love for their daughter Zaya Wade.
“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, wishes, and dreams.”
Union-Wade presented a tough question before the audience in the room and those watching on television.
“Will we fight for some, or will we fight for all of our people?” she said.
Going a little longer than two hours, the 54th NAACP Image Awards was an inspiring show that reinforces the beauty and relevance of African American work.