‘Hidden Figures’ takes top honor at NAACP Image Awards

Sonaiya Kelley
Los Angeles Times

Pasadena, Calif.

“Hidden Figures” was the big winner at the 48th NAACP Image Awards.

The historical drama about the black female NASA mathematicians who helped propel the first American into space scored awards for outstanding motion picture and actress in a motion picture for Taraji P. Henson during Saturday’s portion of the awards, broadcast on TV One.

The Margot Lee Shetterly book on which the film was based took the prize for outstanding literary work-nonfiction during Friday’s non-televised ceremony.

While accepting the award for her portrayal of Katherine G. Johnson, Henson admitted that she’d never focused on math in school because it was understood that STEM fields were “for the boys.”

“There are roles you accept that scare you. And this one did because I failed math,” said Henson, who also won for actress in a drama series for Fox’s “Empire.” “I made it my mission to do this film. This film was very important. It was bigger than me.”

Hosted by “black-ish” star Anthony Anderson, the two-hour show at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium was a celebratory night for a season in which a number of black film and TV projects gained greater visibility and acclaim in Hollywood.

“Where the hell was Steve Harvey when we needed him to announce the presidential election?” joked the “black-ish” star, which got a huge laugh from the crowd. More soberly, he touched on the political climate and alluded heavily to the administration of President Donald Trump.

“Yes, it’s hard when we watch the news today,” Anderson said. “For every political success story like (the election of) California’s (Sen.) Kamala Harris ... for every moment of triumph, there are sadly moments of tragedy. And those who want to return to the past now have the reins of power in their hands. But we should not fear. We should always have, as a very wise man once said, ‘the audacity of hope.’”

Anderson also shouted out the actors and actresses contending for the coveted motion picture awards including “Fences” stars Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.

“Denzel, you are the G.O.A.T.,” Anderson said. “And what a performance by Viola Davis. Viola deserves all the accolades. And so does that snot bubble!”

Washington, the night’s first winner, was met with a standing ovation.

In his speech, the actor tipped his cap to “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins and “Scandal” star Kerry Washington, extolled the necessity of hard work and determination and offered up the first mic drop moment of the night.

“Keep working, keep striving,” he said. “Fall down seven times, get up eight. Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship. So keep moving, keep growing, keep learning. See you at work.”

The big winner in television was “black-ish,” which took six awards, including comedy series, actor in a comedy series for Anderson — who shushed the audience’s raucous applause by saying, “Stop it, you’re taking up my time!” — and actress in a comedy series for Tracee Ellis Ross. “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah presented the award to Ross, but not before taking a jab at the president.

“The audience is so black and so beautiful,” he said. “The room is so black it looks like a photo negative of the Trump administration.”

The rest of the night’s speeches eschewed politics, focusing instead on the recent gains of African-Americans in Hollywood, increasing visibility in the media and the importance of the NAACP for recognizing work by people of color. While accepting the award for comedy series, Anderson quipped about some of his “black-ish” collaborators onstage: “These white people never thought they would have an NAACP Image Award. God is good.”

Special honors were presented to Harvard Law School professor Charles J. Ogletree Jr. and Lonnie G. Bunch III, the director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, who won the chairman’s award and the president’s award, respectively. Both received standing ovations. “I’m very honored to receive this amazing award, thank you very much,” said Ogletree, in perhaps the shortest acceptance speech in history.

OWN’s “Queen Sugar” won for outstanding drama series, while “This Is Us” star Sterling K. Brown nabbed the award for actor in a drama series.

Singer Andra Day opened the show with a pitch-perfect rendition of her anthem “Rise Up,” set to a photo montage featuring images of former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, Black Lives Matter protests and waving American flags.

The night’s other musical performer, John Legend, brought the house down with his 2016 R&B ballad “Surefire.”

The final award of the night went to “Moana” and “Ballers” star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who won entertainer of the year.