NAACP Image Awards: Will Smith, Angela Bassett, ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ Among Top Winners

Honoree Benjamin Crump had the audience on its feet with a fiery speech where he urged people to "fight for our children's future until hell freezes over. And then, we have to be ready to fight on the ice."

Angela Bassett, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Abbott Elementary were among the top winners of the 2023 NAACP Image Awards.

Bassett took the top prize of Entertainer of the Year at the Queen Latifah-hosted ceremony, with Latifah herself presenting her with the honor. And when Bassett took the stage to accept the last award of the Saturday night live ceremony, her first remarks referenced Ariana DeBose’s viral BAFTA rap.

“I guess Angela Bassett did the thing, huh?” Bassett said.

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After acknowledging her “sisters” in the all-female Entertainer of the Year category, Bassett reflected on her past projects like What’s Love Got to Do with It and How Stella Got Her Groove Back and working with directors like Spike Lee and the late John Singleton. She mentioned her Black Panther: Wakanda Forever writer-director, Ryan Coogler, last, saying he “showed us that we are royalty and he built the crown for us all to wear.”

“I am deeply grateful,” Bassett said. “Gratitude is the universe’s way of saying that we are not existing in this world alone; we have each other.”

Bassett also won best actress in a drama series for her role in 9-1-1 and earlier in the week, during one of the multiple non-televised ceremonies where the majority of this year’s awards were presented, won for her Oscar-nominated role in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever won best motion picture during the Saturday night ceremony and earlier in the week picked up seven other awards, making the film, which led the Image Awards nominations with 12 nods, the top winner, with eight wins.

In his best motion picture acceptance speech, Coogler paid tribute to late franchise star Chadwick Boseman saying that while they lost him “we gained an ancestor. He’s with us every day, motivating us, and I can’t think of anyone who done more to advance our image.” Coogler said he was “honored to represent him.”

Abbott Elementary won best comedy series, its sixth award over the course of the NAACP’s six-day awards presentations. Star-creator Quinta Brunson accepted the comedy series prize as she invited her co-stars — including 2023 NAACP Image Award winners Tyler James Williams and Janelle James — to join her onstage.

“We are a brand-new show. Watching all of the other shows [in our category] that paved the way for us, shows that helped push us through the door at ABC like Black-ish … we are so grateful,” Brunson said in part. “We’re happy that we get to make this show that is accessible to everyone but for and by us.”

Will Smith won best actor in a motion picture for Emancipation, a rare honor for the actor in the wake of his high-profile slap of Chris Rock at last year’s Oscars. Smith, who has kept a relatively low profile since the incident and subsequent backlash, wasn’t at the 2023 NAACP Image Awards, but the audience applauded at his win. Presenter Janelle Monáe accepted the award on his behalf.

Smith responded to the win later Saturday night on Instagram, writing in part “WOW!! NAACP!! I am absolutely humbled by this!!” He thanked Emancipation director Antoine Fuqua and others he worked with on the Apple film.

Of the NAACP, Smith referenced president and CEO Derrick Johnson, writing, “I would like to thank the NAACP for honoring our film! [Derrick Johnson,] you and your entire organization – and the work you do all year round – is truly important, so to be recognized by y’all – it means a lot.”

He also indicated he was watching the show as he praised Latifah for her work hosting the telecast.

Newly minted EGOT recipient Viola Davis won her eighth NAACP Image Award for her Oscar-snubbed starring role in The Woman King, thanking everyone who was involved with her “magnum opus” movie, a project she called “nothing but high-octane bravery.”

But it was the night’s honorees who delivered some of the most fiery speeches of the night as they urged the audience to keep fighting for justice.

Social Justice Impact Award winner Benjamin Crump got the crowd on its feet, with people cheering and raising their fists in the air.

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The high-profile attorney who has represented the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Tyre Nichols, among others, vowed to continue his “fight against the legalized genocide of colored people.” And he also pledged to take the fight to the classroom.

“We are prepared to fight for Black history,” Crump said. “We have to stand up for our children’s future. … We have to fight for our children’s future. If we don’t … we can’t expect anyone else to. … [We have to be] prepared to fight for our children’s future until hell freezes over. And then, we have to be ready to fight on the ice.”

Gabrielle Union-Wade and Dwyane Wade were emotional when they accepted the President’s Award as they talked about their daughter, Zaya, and the issues faced by her and other Black trans people.

Wade spoke directly to his child: “All I’ve wanted to do was get it right. I’ve sat back and watched how gracefully you have taken on the public scrutiny. And even though it’s not easy, I watched you walk out of the house every morning as yourself. I admire how you handle the ignorance in our world … that you face every day.”

Union-Wade then called for more inclusive advocacy: “The intersection of Black rights and the rights of the LGBTQIA, trans and gender-nonconforming people continues to be rough — that’s a huge understatement. Even as we demand equality at the top of our lungs, we consistently fail to extend our advocacy to protect some of our most vulnerable among us. And second, Black trans people are being targeted, terrorized and hunted in this country, every day, everywhere. And there’s rarely a whisper about it.”

She closed by saying, “I’m hopeful, we are hopeful that we may witness a real shift in the fight for justice, the moment the movement makes room for everyone.”

Kerry Washington presented Serena Williams with the Jackie Robinson Sports Award and Leon W. Russell presented Bennie Thompson with the Chairman’s Award.

Nicco Annan won best actor in a drama series for his role in P-Valley, dedicating his award to “every 40-, 50-, 60-, 70-year-old plus that did not have space to be themselves.” P-Valley won two other honors over the span of the NAACP Image Awards’ week-long celebration, including the prize for best drama series, taking home three awards after being nominated six times this year.

And the awards show welcomed special guest Brittney Griner, who walked out onstage with her wife, Cherelle, to a standing ovation.

Latifah kicked off the show with a celebratory monologue by singing “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die,” “Ladies First” and “About Damn Time” in between call outs to the Black women and men in the audience.

“That’s right. Live, live, live. That’s what we all must do,” Latifah said after her musical opener. “Look at us. I see so many beautiful Black queens and kings.”

She called the stars in attendance examples of “drive, determination and success.”

Latifah also specifically praised Black women, who she called “superheroes,” “a role we didn’t choose.”

“By the way, if no one told you today, I love you,” Latifah told the audience.

She later shouted out Black men including Jonathan Majors.

Latifah joked that she wasn’t sure how the Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania and Creed III star was at the awards and in “every movie” in theaters now. She also urged Coogler to take a bow for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever‘s success.

And she shouted out trailblazing Black political figures including House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

She also took a moment to acknowledge the “ongoing heartbreaking murder” of young Black men and women, citing Nichols in particular as the names of high-profile Black people who were killed were displayed on the screen behind her.

And she encouraged the audience to continue loving each other, saying that the awards show exists to love and celebrate each other.

Presenters for the live show, which aired on BET and was simulcast across various Paramount networks including CBS and MTV, included Method Man, Damson Idris, Taye Diggs, Harold Perrineau, Issa Rae, Monáe, James, Majors, Washington, Morris Chestnut, Ms. Pat, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Ellis Ross and Zendaya.

The most nominated projects for this year’s NAACP Image Awards were Black Panther: Wakanda Forever with 12 nods, The Woman King and Abbott Elementary with nine nods apiece, Black-ish with seven nods and Till, From Scratch, P-Valley and Queen Sugar with six nods each.

Saturday night’s telecast came after a week of non-televised ceremonies where winners were recognized in multiple categories. The first four nights consisted of virtual presentations each evening: Beyoncé and Rihanna were among the winners from night one; Jennifer Hudson, Trevor Noah and Viola Davis were among those winning during night two; Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Quinta Brunson and Keke Palmer were among the night three winners; and Abbott Elementary, Atlanta and Better Call Saul were among the fourth night’s winners. On Thursday, the outstanding make-up, hairstyling and costume design winners were announced at a fashion show. And on Friday night, more awards were presented at an off-camera dinner and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Abbott Elementary were the top winners, with three awards each.

A complete list of the winners announced during Saturday’s live telecast follows.

Entertainer of the Year

Angela Bassett (WINNER)
Mary J. Blige
Quinta Brunson
Viola Davis

Outstanding Motion Picture

A Jazzman’s Blues (Netflix)
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Marvel Studios) (WINNER)
Emancipation (Apple TV)
The Woman King (Sony Pictures Releasing)
Till (United Artists Releasing/Orion Pictures)

Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture

Daniel Kaluuya – Nope (Universal Pictures)
Jonathan Majors – Devotion (Sony Pictures Entertainment)
Joshua Boone – A Jazzman’s Blues (Netflix)
Sterling K. Brown – Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul (Focus Features)
Will Smith – Emancipation (Apple) (WINNER)

Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture

Danielle Deadwyler – Till (United Artists Releasing/Orion Pictures)
Keke Palmer – Alice (Vertical Entertainment)
Letitia Wright – Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Marvel Studios)
Regina Hall – Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul (Focus Features)
Viola Davis – The Woman King (Sony Pictures Releasing) (WINNER)

Outstanding Comedy Series

Abbott Elementary (ABC) (WINNER)
Atlanta (FX)
black-ish (ABC)
Rap Sh!t (HBO Max)
The Wonder Years (ABC)

Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series

Damson Idris – Snowfall (FX)
Jabari Banks – Bel-Air (Peacock)
Kofi Siriboe – Queen Sugar (OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network)
Nicco Annan – P-Valley (Starz) (WINNER)
Sterling K. Brown – This Is Us (NBC)

Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series

Angela Bassett – 9-1-1 (FOX) (WINNER)
Brandee Evans – P-Valley (Starz)
Queen Latifah – The Equalizer (CBS)
Rutina Wesley – Queen Sugar (OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network)
Zendaya – Euphoria (HBO)

This story was originally published at 5:07 p.m.

9:19 p.m. This story has been updated with Will Smith’s Instagram post about his win.