NAACP Image Awards: ‘Wakanda Forever’ and Angela Bassett, ‘Abbott Elementary,’ win big

Queen Latifah hosted the 54th annual ceremony, which specifically lifted up Black women in the industry, and honored powerhouses like Serena Williams, Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union, and attorney Ben Crump.

From “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and Angela Bassett to Quinta Brunson and the cast of “Abbott Elementary,” the 54th Annual NAACP Image Awards honored some of the biggest and brightest projects and stars in the entertainment industry on Saturday night.

Queen Latifah kicked off the ceremony as host, dedicating her opening speech to Black women. Speaking directly to the audience, she said, “Black women, if nobody told you today, I love you. I love you.” She went on to say that Black women would be front and center throughout the ceremony, shouting out some of the biggest stars in the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, like Serena Williams, Regina Hall, Issa Rae, Kerry Washington, Zendaya and more. After lifting up the Black women in the room, she also shouted out the Black men making waves in the industry, including Jonathan Majors, Ryan Coogler and more.

54th NAACP Image Awards - Show
(L-R) Ryan Coogler, Angela Bassett, Tenoch Huerta and Dominique Thorne accept the Outstanding Motion Picture award for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” onstage during the 54th NAACP Image Awards at Pasadena Civic Auditorium on February 25, 2023 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images for BET)

Without a doubt, the biggest star of the night was Angela Bassett, who, in total, took home three NAACP Image awards. The night’s biggest moment came when Bassett took home Entertainer of the Year, which sparked a standing ovation for the actress. In an already buzzed-about moment on social media, Bassett accepted the award and immediately referenced Ariana DeBose’s now-viral BAFTA’s rap, quipping, “Angela Bassett did the thing!”

Bassett also earned the award for for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series for her work in FOX’s “9-1-1.” Later, she stood alongside Ryan Coogler, Tenoch Huerta, and Dominique Thorne to accept the award for Outstanding Motion Picture, presented by Zendaya, for their blockbuster sequel, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”

“Abbott Elementary” also had a big night on Saturday, winning Outstanding Comedy Series. The critical and ratings hit for ABC also swept acting categories, earning Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Quinta Brunson, Tyler James Williams and Janelle James, respectively.

54th NAACP Image Awards - Show
(L-R) Chris Perfetti, Tyler James Williams, Quinta Brunson, Janelle James, Sheryl Lee Ralph, William Stanford Davis, and Lisa Ann Walter accept the Outstanding Comedy Series award for “Abbott Elementary” onstage during the 54th NAACP Image Awards at Pasadena Civic Auditorium on February 25, 2023 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

The ceremony showed love to “The Woman King,” a film that was shockingly left out of the Academy Awards nominations this year, leading to conversations online and in the industry about inclusion. Viola Davis won Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture for her work in the film for which Gina Prince-Bythewood won Outstanding Director in a Motion Picture earlier in the week.

Some of the special awards of the night included the Jackie Robinson Sports Award, which went to tennis legend Serena Williams, the Chairman’s Award, given to Congressman Bennie Thompson, and Youth Activist of the Year and Activist of the Year, which went to Bradley Ross Jackson and Derrick Lee Foward, respectively. Attorney Benjamin Crump also took home the Social Justice Impact Award, which was presented by Tracee Ellis Ross.

54th NAACP Image Awards - Show
(L-R) Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade accept the President’s Award onstage during the 54th NAACP Image Awards at Pasadena Civic Auditorium on February 25, 2023 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

“I accept this award as greater motivation to continue to be an unapologetically defender of Black life, Black liberty and Black humanity,” said Crump. The famed attorney also vowed to not only continue fighting against racism, discrimination and “the legalized genocide of colored people” but for the preservation of Black history in books and the classroom.

“We all have a role to play, so I will continue to fight in the court of law and the court of public opinion. And now that they’re trying to ban our most celebrated Black authors and AP African American studies, we must advocate for our children and our culture in the classrooms and demand … that they acknowledge that the teaching of Black history matters,” Crump continued as the crowd rose to its feet. “It is so important that both Black children and white children and all children know that Black history matters because Black history is American history,” he later added.

The ceremony included other powerful moments, as when Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade accepted the President’s Award. Wade spoke directly to his daughter Zaya, who, as theGrio previously reported, came out as trans in 2020. Wade thanked her for “showing the world what courage looks like,” saying, “You’ve made me a better human just simply by being who you were born to be.”

Union then took her turn at the mic, honoring the legacy of the NAACP and activism in the Black community, while also urging a “new era” that also includes members of the LGBTQIA+ community. She asked the audience and viewers at home directly, “Will we fight for some, or will we fight for all of our people?”

“First, the intersection of Black rights and the rights of the LGBTQIA trans and gender non conforming people continues to be rough — that’s a huge understatement,” Union continued. “Even as we demand equality at the top of our lungs, we consistently failed to extend our advocacy to protect some of our most vulnerable among us.”

Rounding out her speech with a message of hope, Union urged the audience to have these conversations of inclusion “in ways that can actually build bridges” and ultimately save the lives of Black trans people who are “being targeted, terrorized and hunted in this country.”

Check out the moving speech below:

Check out the full winner’s list at the official NAACP Image Awards site, here.

TheGrio is FREE on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Android TV. Also, please download theGrio mobile apps today!