With appearances from President Biden, Vice President Harris and former first lady Michelle Obama, the night was full of heartfelt and memorable moments as the ceremony reflected on the issues that America -- and especially its Black community -- faced in 2020. In its first show since the nation’s reckoning with racial inequality spurred by the killing of George Floyd and the ensuing rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, the ceremony was especially meaningful as it highlighted many of the triumphs achieved by the Black community in the last year.
From Regé-Jean Page’s sweet acceptance speech to Michelle Obama’s moving words, below are seven of the best moments from the 52nd NAACP Image Awards.
1. President Biden and Vice President Harris kick off the show
To start the show, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris each gave a few words of encouragement to viewers. Calling himself a "lifelong member of the NAACP," the president addressed the organization’s long history of pushing for equality and progress. Before passing it on to the VP, he touched on the importance of representation and added that, "Black culture is American culture. Black history is American history. And Black stories are essential to the ongoing story of America.”
Next up, Vice President Harris shared her own message of support. “NAACP has led the way, all the way, fighting for justice, ensuring the well-being of Black communities, providing grants to Black entrepreneurs and advocating for Black students. I thank you,” said Harris. The vice president ended on a positive note: “We have surpassed 100 million shots in arms. We have sent out more than 100 million checks, and we are making historic investments in schools, small businesses, and Black communities across the country. And still, there is so much more to be done. So tonight, let us celebrate, and tomorrow, let's get back to work."
2. Regé-Jean Page’s adorable reaction to winning the award for outstanding actor in a drama series
Though Bridgerton leading man Regé-Jean Page is a Hollywood newcomer, he took home the major award for outstanding actor in a drama series. In his starring role as the Duke of Hastings on the Netflix smash hit, Page gushed as he accepted his award and noted why it was especially meaningful to him as an actor. "It is the highest honor to represent us in the fullness of our humanity, in our beauty, of our joy, of our glamour, of our splendor, of our royalty, of our romance, of our love. It is the highest honor to represent that and to represent the people that I do represent. I will do my absolute best to be worthy of that.”
3. Viola Davis misses her husband's congratulatory kiss, but makes up for it in her second acceptance speech of the night
As Andra Day and Cynthia Erivo announced Viola Davis the winner of outstanding actress in a drama series for How to Get Away With Murder, the camera panned to a frame of Davis and her husband, Julius Tennon. While Tennon was leaning in to give Davis a kiss, Davis accidentally left him hanging as she excitedly began her acceptance speech. Host Anthony Anderson jokingly said, “Your husband went in to give you a kiss and you shook him!” But not to worry, because Davis snagged a second award that night for outstanding actress in a motion picture for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. The second time around, Tennon and Davis shared a celebratory kiss, after which she gave her second acceptance speech. Davis signed off by also thanking her late co-star. “To the beautiful Chadwick Boseman: I love you, Chad,” said Davis.
4. Jazmine Sullivan’s electric performance
Dressed in a feathery blue dress and leather pants, R&B star Jazmine Sullivan sang her soulful “Pick Up Your Feelings.” Accompanied by a trio of backup vocalists and a full band with a trumpet and saxophone, Sullivan performed her single in a blue-hued set as she flexed her vocal range onstage.
5. Chadwick Boseman posthumously wins for outstanding actor in a motion picture
On behalf of her late husband, Simone Ledward Boseman accepted Chadwick Boseman's award for his role in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. In a tearful acceptance speech, she thanked the NAACP Image Awards for “always giving him his flowers.” Boseman then pointed to the racial inequality in healthcare: “Black people in this country are 20 percent more likely to be diagnosed with colon cancer, and 40 percent more likely to die from it.” (Chadwick Boseman died of colon cancer in August 2020.) His widow made a plea for viewers to get screened early and signed off with: "You are so needed, and you are so loved. Please take your health into your own hands."
6. Maxwell’s dazzling performance
As a throwback treat for fans, Maxwell performed his 1996 single “Asencion (Don’t Ever Wonder).” In a black-and-white clip, the neo-soul star opted for a music video-style performance as he strolled down city streets while singing. In honor of the 25th anniversary of his Grammy-nominated debut album, Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite, Maxwell took to the stage -- bringing back many '90s memories for R&B fans to relive.
7. Michelle Obama’s powerful words and Stacey Abrams' Social Impact Award
As former first lady Michelle Obama spoke on Stacey Abrams’ crucial work during the 2020 election, she detailed how “organizing on the ground is the best way to crack a ceiling,” in reference to Abrams’ grassroots organization for voter rights.
To combat voter suppression, Abrams was a key figure in getting 800,000 voters registered in Georgia, which proved critical in securing Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 presidential election and two Democratic Senate seats in January's runoff elections. In her acceptance speech, Abrams acknowledged the team effort necessary to create lasting change: “I stand beside the organizers and activists who refused to allow the stubborn realities of systemic injustice to stop them from protesting in the streets, at the ballot boxes, and in the halls of power. I share this award with all those who champion progress, equity and the truth of who we are and who we must become as a nation.”