MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Last night, Lizzo won Entertainer of the Year honors at the 51st NAACP Image Awards. And her acceptance speech sounded a bit like the mission statement for the whole show.
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LIZZO: Every last one of you - you are the award. We are so special. We are such a beautiful people. This is just a reminder of all the incredible things that we can do. God bless you. And keep on being an award. Let's go.
MARTIN: In a year when awards shows like the Oscars and the Golden Globes have faced criticism for nominating few people of color, these awards can take on a larger impact, says NPR TV critic Eric Deggans, who is with us now to tell us more.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hi.
MARTIN: So you watch all the awards shows. What did you think of this one staged by the NAACP? Like, how does it fit in...
MARTIN: ...With all of them?
DEGGANS: Yeah, I do have to watch them all. And I have to say, what makes the Image Awards so special is that they are an awards show that's seen through the lens of black people and black culture. So people get nominated and win like Eddie Murphy or Lupita Nyong'o or Jennifer Lopez and almost the whole cast of "Black-ish," who might get ignored or downplayed in more mainstream award shows like the Oscars or the Emmys.
And the NAACP wasn't just honoring, like, third-tier characters and second-rate TV shows or movies. These winners are some of the highest-profile movies and TV shows in the industry, which just show me how far non-white people have progressed in the work they're doing and how far some of these award shows have to go to recognize people.
MARTIN: So tell us a bit more about the winners. Who did well? And does that say anything to you about the state of the industry?
DEGGANS: Well, nominees are selected by NAACP committees, and then winners are chosen by the NAACP members in the public. So sometimes, it's tough to know exactly what it means when someone wins an award. But "Black-ish" tended to rule the TV categories. And I was glad to see that Eddie Murphy's tribute to one of his heroes, "Dolemite Is My Name," won Best Independent Film. "When They See Us," Ava DuVernay's amazing limited series on the Central Park Five, won three awards.
And the film "Just Mercy" about criminal justice system reformer Bryan Stevenson's effort to exonerate a black man unjustly convicted of murder - he won four honors, including best film. And because of those wins, race and criminal justice got a lot of attention during the ceremony, including in this stirring acceptance speech by Stevenson. Let's check it out.
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BRYAN STEVENSON: The Bureau of Justice has projected that 1 in 3 black male babies born in this country is expected to go to jail or prison. We have a system of criminal justice that treats you better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent.
STEVENSON: We cannot stay silent about this reality.
MARTIN: Wow. Yeah, certainly very relevant after the last week and the news about the pardons. But you are a critic, though. It's in your job title. Are there things about the ceremony that you thought could be - let's say improved?
DEGGANS: Well, I'm going to start my criticism with a compliment, which is they finished this awards ceremony in two hours (laughter). So the people from the Oscars and the Golden Globes could learn a lot from this crew. But to do that, they gave the winners almost no time, really, to give their acceptance speeches. And the Image Awards has over 60 categories. So winners in some great areas like literature - say Toni Morrison's "The Source Of Self-Regard" and Margaret Wilkerson Sexton's "The Revisioners" - they weren't on camera.
And there were some interesting winners in those categories that weren't aired. Like Lupita Nyong'o won best film actress, but she also won an award as a children's author for the book "Sulwe." And 50 Cent won an award for directing an episode of "Power." So I guess that just shows how multitalented black folks can be.
MARTIN: That is NPR TV critic Eric Deggans talking about the 51st NAACP Image Awards. Eric, thank you so much.
DEGGANS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.