Do the NAACP Image Awards need a makeover?

The NAACP Image Awards nominees were announced a few days ago, and it appears the once prestigious show is continuing its streak of mediocrity.

The level of effort they’re giving to the award categories is simply baffling. Take for example the best actor category: You’ve got acclaimed thespians like Denzel Washington, Jamie Foxx, and Morgan Freeman against Tyler Perry, who elbowed his way into the category via the box office bomb Alex Cross.

The outstanding talk series category includes two mediocre shows from Oprah’s OWN network and TJ Holmes’ much-maligned Don’t Sleep, but Melissa Harris Perry and Al Sharpton’s insightful political shows on MSNBC were snubbed.

The NAACP’s baffling recent history of awarding seems to be based upon who will actually show up to claim the statue.

In 2012 they passed over revered talents like Jeffrey Wright and Don Cheadle to give Mike Epps the outstanding supporting actor trophy for his role in Jumping the Broom.

That’s the same year Jennifer Hudson’s 2012 release (that I bet you can’t name) beat out Beyonce’s 4 in the outstanding album category.

In 2011, Willow Smith beat out Bruno Mars and Nicki Minaj for best new artist. Mind you, this victory came at the time she had maybe two singles out, not even a full album release.
Meanwhile, Tyler Perry’s House of Payne has won the comedy TV category for nearly as long as its been on air, which seems like overkill to say the least.

What gives, NAACP? Sure, awards shows are typically popularity contests, but it seems like the nominations are lacking integrity and thought.

It’s like they stopped trying, opting instead for an easy “friends of the NAACP” Awards instead of the respect and homage it used to show to black talent largely shunned by the mainstream.

When the NAACP Awards were first handed out in 1967, they were basically the only thing going for African-American people in the creative arts. To get an Image Award was a great honor, a rare chance to be acknowledged for your efforts in a racially-biased industry.

However, 44 years later, the award show market is swamped – from competition like BET’s numerous award iterations, various other network’s one-off specials, and internet award ceremonies, the only thing missing from the over-saturated market is an award show for award shows.

And yet it appears the NAACP still has their proverbial head in the sand to some extent, because the Image Awards is still conducting itself in the same way it did in 1967.

Sure there are a couple of new categories, and they always make sure some big names show up to keep the show on-air, but outside of that, the show’s bland city. At this rate their viewership is growing older, and without pursuing a younger demographic, the award show will follow it’s fanbase to the grave.

So what can be done to save this slowly fossilizing relic?

Step 1: Don’t feel pressured to have a certain number of people in each category. It feels like in every category there’s at least one “they shouldn’t be nominated” moment.

Or worse, one category dominated by one nominee, such as how outstanding actress in a TV movie or miniseries are all from Lifetime’s Steel Magnolias, excluding Keke Palmer, also from a Lifetime movie. Congrats Lifetime, every which way you win.

Step 2: Reconsider the categories. Part of the reoccurring nominee problem has to do with the unfortunate fact that there’s just not enough people of color on mainstream media. It feels like if you’re black and in a movie you get nominated — hence why Denzel Washington or Will Smith are stepping up to the podium nearly every other year.

However, instead of highlighting this inequality with redundant nominations, perhaps we can become more creative with the categories, eliminating and consolidating others (sorry daytime drama actors, but I see no reason why you can’t go up against the TV movie nominees.).

Step 3: Make interesting partnerships. I know that large companies are what pay the bills, but it’s the small start-ups that fuel innovation. Partner with organizations that are passionate about reaching your audience in new and innovative ways. Challenge the status quo of award shows and dare to do something different.

Most importantly, preserve the integrity of the legacy of the Image Awards.  It doesn’t have to be all cheese and pander – people will watch a good show if you make it happen.

Follow Kia Miakka Natisse on Twitter at @miakka_natisse