A PARADE of current and wannabe movie and TV celebrities flit through the aisles, hugging and glad-handing each other while keeping one eye on the cameras filming the event. This is the NAACP's Image Awards.
Many of those on display at last year's ceremony were young and nominated, it seemed, only because they had appeared in a recent TV show, cut a pop or rap album or published a kiss-and-tell autobiography.
NAACP officials have proved deaf to the grumbles from many blacks that the Image Awards have become a black imitation of the Academy Awards.
In 1997, a small group of NAACP rebels denounced the ceremony for nominating the stars of TV shows that are among the worst image assassins of blacks. NAACP officials' only response was a terse reprimand of Warner Bros. for showing "contempt" with its clownish portrayal of African-Americans on the WB TV Network.
Since that time NAACP officials have been missing in action in the battle for positive racial images:
The mass campaign to remove the TV series "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer" from the airwaves, and eliminate stereotypes from the TV series, "The Pjs."
The decision by the UPN and WB TV networks to segregate black-themed shows into one time block and then replace them with programs aimed at young, affluent whites.
The Federal Communications Commission report condemning major corporations for refusing to advertise in black-owned media outlets.
On a more general level, the NAACP has failed to speak out against alcohol and tobacco ads that target young blacks.
Works by independent and black-owned publishers, film, dance, drama and music companies do not win Image Awards, nor have any rich and famous black celebrities bankrolled programs to involve talented noncommercial artists and activists in NAACP activities.
The NAACP bills this year's ceremony, which will be held this weekend in Pasadena, Calif., as a salute to "50 years of entertainment, and 90 years of courage." It can live up to this billing by honoring the artists who aggressively challenge the negative stereotypes of African Americans, and refuse to take money from corporations that promote those stereotypes and not equal opportunity. Until that happens, the NAACP Image Awards will be seen as a promoter of entertainment, not courage.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson wrote this for the Pacific News Service.
Pub Date: 2/12/99