NAACP show expects sparks, not fireworks from 'OscarsSoWhite'

PASADENA, Calif. -- #OscarsSoWhite? That's so last year for the NAACP Image Awards.

Despite the heated talk about racial diversity in Hollywood following the Academy Awards' mostly white array of nominees for the second year in a row, organizers of the NAACP Image Awards expect energy, not preoccupation at Friday's ceremony honouring people of colour in entertainment.

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"The Oscars are their show, and we're our show," said Image Awards executive producer Phil Gurin this week at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, Calif., where crews were busy preparing for the 47th Image Awards.

But that doesn't mean the controversy will be ignored at the ceremony, which is presented by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"We're certainly going to talk about the world at large," said Gurin, who's producing the two-hour TV One broadcast for the third straight year with Oscar producer Reginald Hudlin. "We're aware of what's going on in the world. We have ways to deal with it and comment on it that are both serious and entertaining."

At the beginning of last year's Image Awards, host Anthony Anderson opened the show with a musical number poking fun at other award shows' lack of racial diversity set to the hit tune "Uptown Funk." The "black-ish" star is back as the show's host this year, and Gurin teased that Anderson has more zingers ready in his opening number and monologue.

The producers are also preparing for the possibility of honorees spontaneously addressing the topic when they claim their trophies. Yet Gurin anticipates sparks, not fireworks.

"If a winner comes up to the stage, they'll say what they want to say -- and they may add something," said Gurin. "I'm sure the energy here will be a little more electric than it has been in years past."

For Friday's ceremony, which was first held in 1967, the issue presents an opportunity to stimulate more interest in the broadcast outside the African-American community. But Leonard James, who serves as chairman for the Image Awards at the NAACP, says that's been the goal for years.

"This is not intended to be a black-only show," he said. "It's intended to be a multicultural, multiethnic and multiracial show, admittedly seen through an African-American perspective. As long as we maintain that, there will always be a need for the Image Awards. "

Several black actors and filmmakers who were passed over by the motion picture academy are up for Image Awards, such as "Creed" star Michael B. Jordan and director Ryan Coogler, as well as "Beasts of No Nation" actor Idris Elba, who won a pair of Screen Actors Guild Awards last Saturday.

While the majority of Image Award nominees are African-American, there are a few non-black contenders, including Latina actress Gina Rodriguez, Indian-American actor-writer Aziz Ansari and white "Transparent" creator Jill Soloway.

"We represent all people of colour," said James. "Occasionally, some people forget that white is, in fact, a colour."

James, a business consultant who previously worked at Exxon Mobil for 38 years, noted that the first way to tackle Hollywood's racial diversity conundrum is to quantify it before attempting to solve it. He said that's worked for other industries.

"We should not only talk about the lack of diversity and inclusion in the industry, but develop a sustainable, actionable plan to address those gaps and put benchmarks and metrics in place," said James. "However, that will only succeed if we can work collaboratively with the industry to affect changes. We all recognize this is not something that will happen instantaneously."


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