Television’s top African American talent gathered Monday evening to celebrate black achievements on the small screen.
Among the names that filled the star-studded Beverly Wilshire Hotel ballroom for the Paley Center event: Terrence Howard, Ava DuVernay, Anthony Anderson, Brandy Norwood, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Debra Martin Chase, Diahann Carroll, Don Cheadle, Jerrod Carmichael, Keegan-Michael Key, Regina King, Rick Fox, S. Epatha Merkerson, Tyler Perry and Tyra Banks.
In addition to commemorating the 35th anniversary of BET network and the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, the evening paid tribute to legendary multihyphenate Quincy Jones. In turn, the 82-year-old praised the medium for playing such a pivotal role in addressing key cultural issues and creating social change over the years.
“The country has changed and television has proved to be an immeasurably important vehicle for that change because communication is what it’s all about. We’ve come a long way since the time when we didn’t see faces of color on TV. I remember the day we [finally] had wonderful, young talent both in front of the camera and behind the scenes in the writers’ room,” he said from the podium, specifically calling out “that beautiful Selma director” DuVernay.
“It just makes my soul smile every time I see it happen: Young black men and women who are tearing it up and contributing to our industry in every way, from the creative side to making decisions in the front office,” added Jones, who also made sure to note that there’s still much progress to be made behind the camera.
The majority of the event featured compilations of clips from historically significant programs, with presenters boarding the stage in between to pay homage to black creative visionaries in the industry. For her part, DuVernay talked about the considerable impact TV news has had on educating the public about racial issues.
“From the tragic murders of Eric Garner in New York to Walter Scott in South Carolina and so many other brothers and sisters, television’s power transforms what tragically might have been forgotten in history into unforgettable, indelible reminders of the hard work that we all still have to do,” she said.
Ahead of the event, 50 Cent, who executive produces Starz’ gritty drug-kingpin drama Power, acknowledged that recent hits centered on African American characters have ushered in a new era of diverse TV (a new GLAAD report found that the 2015-2016 broadcast TV has the highest number of black characters ever). “It takes projects like Power, and its success — and following that, Empire. With those shows doing well, it breaks that mold of having to stay in the cookie-cutter mentality of what’s worked in the past,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.
Series creator Courtney Kemp Agboh agreed, adding that it’s important to continue to diversify talent offscreen, as well. “You can also hire people of color behind the scenes on a mainstream show. I was on The Good Wife for three years — you don’t need to have the people on the screen match the people who are writing it.”
Carmichael, who stars in his own self-titled NBC comedy, took his moment onstage to remind the audience that above all else, it’s crucial to make quality content. “Know that the most important thing is making great art. Transcend race in all that you do,” he said looking out over the crowd before adding in jest: “Wow, there’s more black people here than I’ve seen north of Pico in years.”