NAACP Image Awards celebrates 39th year

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While the WGA Strike took a lot of sparkle out of Hollywood's 2008 award season -- the most dramatic example being last month's Golden Globes ceremony, which was relegated to a half-hour celeb-free press conference -- plans for the 39th annual NAACP Image Awards soldiered on.

In fact, the WGA granted the Image Awards a waiver long before the strike was about to be settled (as it was rumored to be at press time), ensuring that there would be SAG members (read: famous faces) inside the ceremony and no WGA picketers outside. In addition, it allowed the program's writers to pen a script for the show, which will be broadcast live on Fox from the Shrine Auditorium tonight at 5 p.m. on the East Coast and at 8 p.m. via tape delay on the West Coast.

The prospect of a picket-free show was a nice valentine for Vicangelo

Bulluck, executive director of the NAACP Hollywood Bureau and executive producer of the Image Awards. But things were still a bit hectic behind the scenes.

"We got started a little late," Bulluck says. "It was important to us to be respectful of the WGA. We now want to do a show worthy of the support the WGA has demonstrated for the NAACP," he says, adding that the theme in this election year is "Stand Up and Be Counted."

Now that the Image Awards can be counted among the shows that will go on, the question becomes: Why was the ceremony granted an interim

agreement in the first place when others were denied? According to a recent statement by WGA West president Patric Verrone, it's "because of

the historic role the NAACP has played in struggles like ours. We think this decision is appropriate to jointly achieve our goals."

Bulluck agrees. "I don't think (the comparison) is overstated," he says. "The current negotiations will have a historical impact on the way artists are treated in the new millennium."

An impressive lineup of artists has been assembled for this year's show, and Bulluck suspects a high point will be the induction of musical legend Stevie Wonder into the NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame. "It will be a loving, heartfelt tribute with an explosive performance featuring some of Stevie's favorite friends," he says.

Special honors will also be presented to Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin and actress Ruby Dee -- an Image Award and Academy Award nominee at age 83 for her supporting role in Universal's "American Gangster."

Bulluck promises "an inspiring, dignified evening with entertainment for the whole family," and seems prepared to deal with the challenge of putting on a broadcast like this during such tumultuous times.

"It's a crazy year for all awards shows," he says. "How do you celebrate and still recognize all the issues the industry and America now face?"


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