NAACP offers Image Awards as a symbol of its comeback

April 23, 1996|By James Bock | James Bock,SUN STAFF

Tonight's NAACP Image Awards (8 p.m. on Fox) marks the revival of a television program -- and perhaps of a civil rights group.

The show will be President Kweisi Mfume's first appearance on the national stage since leaving Congress in February to head the troubled National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, based in Baltimore.

Mr. Mfume surrounds himself with considerable star power, including co-hosts Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington, as if to reinforce the notion that the NAACP is regaining its historic role as black America's most powerful voice.

"We are reaching out for a new generation of young people," Mr. Mfume tells the audience. "And I pray that you reach back."

The Image Awards, created 27 years ago as a response to negative stereotypes of blacks in Hollywood productions, itself became a symbol of the fiscal mismanagement that led to the NAACP's $3.2 million debt. Under former Chairman William F. Gibson, the program lost $1.4 million over four years and was scrapped last year.

Now the program is back -- in prime time -- and making money. Joe Madison, a Washington radio talk show host who is chairman of the Image Awards, said this year's show will turn a profit of $300,000.

"It was a success all the way around," Mr. Madison said yesterday. "After a year's hiatus, we didn't know how the Hollywood community would respond. They responded tremendously."

Quincy Jones was named entertainer of the year, the movie "Waiting to Exhale" won seven awards, comedian Richard Pryor received the Hall of Fame Award and country singer Garth Brooks got the Founders Award for his work with underprivileged children.

In a year in which only one African-American was nominated for an Oscar, Mr. Madison said the Image Awards is proof there is black talent in Hollywood, on and off camera. The show's production staff was 63 percent black, 20 percent Latino or Asian, and 17 percent white, he said.

Mr. Madison is calling for the NAACP to form an Image Awards academy to train and place minorities in the entertainment industry, and to monitor Hollywood hiring and promotion practices.

Pub Date: 4/23/96

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