The lack of diversity in Oscar nominations was top of mind for many at this year’s BET Honors, which celebrated singer Patti LaBelle, Epic Records chief L.A. Reid, TV and film exec Lee Daniels, former attorney general Eric Holder Jr. ,and businesswoman Mellody Hobson Saturday (March 5) at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C.
BET founder/chair Debra Lee told Billboard on the red carpet the controversy “makes me prouder of what we do because we celebrate our own. When an Academy Awards celebration doesn’t recognize any black actors for two years in a row it makes me proud that we don’t wait for other organizations to celebrate us, we celebrate ourselves,” she explained. “That’s always been important to BET and so it makes me feel good. And hopefully now diversity will be more of a mandate for other organizations.”
The event, which was hosted by Arsenio Hall and also paid tribute to Natalie Cole and Earth Wind & Fire’s Maurice White, will air March 14 on BET.
Does Lee think there will be more eyes on BET Honors this year given heightened awareness of the diversity issue? “Oh yes, for sure,” she said.
At least one honoree, Empire co-creator and producer Daniels, is not down with the Hollywood blame game. “People scream racism in Hollywood, and I just can’t blame the system,” said Daniels, whose film credits include Monsters Ball and Precious. “I blame no one. I think we have to be responsible for our own actions, so I don’t point a finger at Hollywood; I point a finger at me. I play by my own rules and I dance to my own music, and I think that’s the reason I’m here tonight.”
LaBelle said above all she is thankful for the recognition from BET. “It means everything great,” she said. “I’ve done the show about three times performing and then for me to be honored tonight, I am just so wonderfully blessed.” She said fans can expect her new, jazz-flavored album out by the end of the year. “I’ve finished it, and it will be released in about six months,” she said.
Monica, who presented LaBelle with her award, was effusive in her praise for her friend and mentor.
“She’s one of the real pioneers of soul, and she’s such an influential woman because she takes time to mentor a lot of people. She’ll take you in and talk to you about personal things, professional things. She’ll cook for you and your whole family,” said Monica. “She’s just a loving person that deserves to be praised. And tonight she’ll see how many people love her and still look up to her today.”
Filmmaker George Lucas, escorting Hobson down the carpet, told Billboard he’s enjoying the recent shift in public recognition from himself to his wife. “My wife is now the one who’s winning all the awards, so this is the way it is today,” he explained to Billboard. “She gets a lot of awards and I just sort of follow her around. I like it.”