Rihanna’s Ally Speech And Other Notable Moments From The 51st NAACP Image Awards That Celebrate Diversifying Hollywood

naacp image awards

Last night, the NAACP held their 51st NAACP Image Awards highlighting Hollywood’s brightest A-list black stars. The historical Pasadena Convention Center was brimming to the rim with black excellence from all different ages and the largest star-studded award show did not disappoint. With six-time NAACP winner and Emmy and Golden Global nominated actor, Anthony Anderson at the helm of the show as the host, multi-hyphenate starlet Rihanna receiving the President’s Award for distinguished service and Lizzo swooping up the entertainer of the year award, the 51st NAACP Image Awards crowned Hollywood’s hottest black stars with reputable accolades making them feel seen in invaluable ways by their industry peers, which the broader Hollywood community has traditionally failed to do at the Emmys, Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards.

During her acceptance speech for the prestigious President’s Award, the talented musician, business mogul, and philanthropist, Rihanna, so eloquently directed people of color to tell their friends of different cultural backgrounds to “pull up” to unify communities. With Fenty’s Clara Lionel nonprofit foundation, she aims to fund education and emergency response programs around the world, as she stated, “If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that we can fix this world together. We can’t do it divided. I can’t emphasize that enough.” Fenty also addressed the massive elephant in the room, which was the lack of diversity and inclusion within Hollywood, and encouraged the audience to leverage allies of people of color to champion issues of diversity and inclusion within all verticals to actively try to effect change.

Today In: Leadership

From the inception, the NAACP has been at the forefront of the battle of equality, fighting to ensure fair employment and positive images within the entertainment industry. With the NAACP Image Awards now in its 51st year, the goal is to hold up a mirror to the industry to understand that diversity and inclusion are more than mere buzzwords. Leon W. Russell, chairman of the NAACP national board of directors believes that there must be a systemic commitment to change within Hollywood. As we recently saw with this year’s Oscars and their mainly white and male nominees, Hollywood still has a diversity problem, causing viewing audience members to believe that there are “two different Hollywoods.” UCLA’s 2020 Hollywood Diversity Report states that although the numbers of acting jobs for women and people of color are getting closer to being proportionate with the U.S. population overall; there are still vast diversity and inclusion gaps behind the scenes and camera (screenwriters, directors and executive positions at major Hollywood studios.)

“As of 2019, both women and minorities are within striking distance of proportionate representation when it comes to lead roles and total cast,” said Darnell Hunt, dean of the UCLA College division of social sciences and the report’s co-author. “But behind the scenes, it’s a very different story. That begs the question: Are we actually seeing systematic change, or is Hollywood just appealing to diverse audiences through casting, but without fundamentally altering the way studios do business behind the camera?”

So what can Hollywood do to improve their diversity initiatives across the board and promote change, systematically? The UCLA “By All M.E.A.N.S Necessary” report has a few suggestions for Hollywood based companies to implement successful strategies for hiring, sponsoring and promoting women and minorities, especially women of color. The report’s title, “By All M.E.A.N.S. Necessary: Essential Practices for Transforming Hollywood Diversity and Inclusion” is extracted from the key elements of each step: modernize, expand, amplify, normalize, and structure.

According to the report, companies can improve diversity and inclusion by following five essential practices:

Modernize their worldviews of the evolving American audience, which is now 40 percent minority and 50 percent female. Businesses can do this by establishing a public statement about their diversity mission, setting specific goals with timelines that support the stated purpose, and teaching employees that change is not only inevitable but beneficial.

Expand hiring searches to include candidates of diverse racial, ethnic, gender, disability, and LGBTQ backgrounds. In part, companies can do this by tapping into databases like Creative Artist Agency’s list of TV writers of color and women in Hollywood’s female filmmakers’ roster, and by expanding outreach to colleges.

Implement a robust strategy to amplify the roles of women, and women of color, in particular, in leadership roles. Previous research has shown that when women occupy leadership roles, projects and work environments are considerably more inclusive.

Normalize compensation packages, especially for entry-level jobs, because minority hires from non-affluent backgrounds often cannot afford to take low-paying jobs despite their high-value networking opportunities.

Structure incentives for decision-makers to prioritize diversity and inclusion at all levels.

Or, Hollywood could also follow Tracee Ellis Ross’ advice, as mentioned at the 51st NAACP Image Awards, when she said, “We have so much good stuff to say. It’s essential to listen to everybody. We live in a world where some reason people have decided that some voices are more important than others. I disagree. I think there is democracy around our voices, and black and brown women’s voices need to be lifted in a balanced way.”

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