Denzel Washington at NAACP Image Awards: 'Ease is a Greater Threat to Progress than Hardship'

The nation's oldest civil rights organization continues to honor talent the Oscars are slow to recognize.

At the 48th annual NAACP Image Awards Saturday at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, the organization continued its legacy of recognizing outstanding Black actors, while the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences now makes an effort to catch up.


Last month the Academy announced that Black actors were nominated for 2017 Oscars in the four major categories for the first time in the academy's history. Denzel Washington ("Fences," Actor), Mahershala Ali ("Moonlight," Supporting Actor), Ruth Negga ("Loving," Actress), Viola Davis ("Fences," Supporting Actress), Naomie Harris ("Moonlight," Supporting Actress) and Octavia Spencer ("Hidden Figures," Actress) were all recognized.

In 2015 and 2016, Academy voters nominated all white actors, which resulted in the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite.

Roslyn Brock, NAACP's board chairman, said it should be natural to celebrate "innate talent," rather than an effort.

"Wouldn't it be wonderful if we didn't have to say this is the largest group of nominees or the first of anything?" Brock asked during an interview with Variety magazine.

"It should be second nature that we see each other as equals and celebrate the innate talent within our diverse communities in the United States. But until such time as people aren't colorblind and are not racist and bigoted and discriminatory, we'll continue to be the NAACP and advance those in front of and behind the camera."

On Saturday, Washington, who has received two Oscars, won the NAACP Image Award for outstanding actor. He has won more than 15 Image Awards.

During his acceptance speech, he honored playwright August Wilson, who wrote "Fences." Not only did Washington star in the film version, but he directed it as well. And in his speech, he also chose to motivate new artists in the audience.

Denzel Washington at NAACP Image Awards

"August Wilson is one of the greatest playwrights in the history of American or world theater. It is a privilege, an honor, a responsibility, a duty and a joy to bring his brilliance to the screen.

"I am particularly proud and happy about the young filmmakers, actors, singers, writers, producers that are coming up behind my generation," he said, citing "Moonlight" director Barry Jenkins.

"Young people, understand, this young man made 10, 15, 20 short films, before he got the opportunity to make 'Moonlight.' So never give up. Without commitment, you'll never start. But more importantly, without consistency, you'll never finish.

"It's not easy. If it was easy, there'd be no Kerry Washington, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer. But not only that, if it were easy there'd be no Viola Davis. If it were easy there'd be no Mykelti Williamson, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Russell Hornsby, and there'd be no Denzel Washington.

"So, keep working, keep striving. Never give up. If you fall down seven times, get up eight. Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship. So, keep moving, keep growing, keep learning. See you at work."

Taraji P. Henson, who didn't receive an Oscar nomination, won the Image Award for outstanding actress in a motion picture for her role as Katherine G. Johnson in "Hidden Figures," which was named best movie.

The outstanding supporting actor award went to Mahershala Ali, and Viola Davis received the award for outstanding supporting actress.

Henson also won for her role as Cookie on "Empire" as the NAACP also recognizes work in television, music and literature.

Television projects that took home awards included "This Is Us," "Black-ish" and "Queen Sugar." For music, Beyoncé, whose album "Lemonade" didn't receive the album of the year Grammy Award on Sunday, won an Image Award for outstanding female artist.

And Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was named entertainer of the year.

In continuing to recognize community activists, the NAACP, founded on Feb. 12, 1909, by Mary White Ovington, Moorfield Storey and W.E.B. Du Bois, also honored Harvard Law School professor Charles J. Ogletree Jr. and historian Lonnie G. Bunch III.

Bunch is the founding director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., which opened in September.

"There is nothing more noble honoring all of our ancestors than remembering," Bunch said.

See a list of winners here.

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