It was Whitney Houston's night, but Michael Jackson dominated the 26th annual NAACP Image Awards with a five-minute speech of his own before presenting Debbie Allen with a choreography award.
Jackson received a standing ovation from the audience gathered at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium Wednesday night and had to pause several times during his remarks to let the cheers from the audience subside.
After thanking the crowd several times, Jackson made a brief but forceful statement: "Everyone is presumed to be innocent and totally innocent until charged with a crime and then convicted by a jury of their peers. . . . Not only am I presumed to be innocent, I am innocent."
Jackson has been accused of molesting a 13-year-old boy, but criminal charges have yet to be filed. Early in the show, one presenter included Jackson in a list of names, calling him "Michael (Innocent Until Proven Guilty) Jackson."
Houston won four awards--for best female artist, music video, album and soundtrack album--in addition to her previously announced Entertainer of the Year award. Houston's mother, gospel singer Cissy Houston, and brother Gary received a standing ovation for their rendition of "Amazing Grace," sung in tribute to Houston's special award as Entertainer of the Year, which was presented by actor Denzel Washington.
Controversy was the byword of the evening, with Fox TV star Martin Lawrence winning both outstanding actor in a comedy series and outstanding comedy series for "Martin," which has been criticized for its sexual high jinks. Lawrence obliquely defended both himself and another nominee, rapper Tupac Shakur, when he repeated parts of his acceptance speech in the pressroom, saying, "We come down on a lot of the young people . . . just for speaking what people have lived."
The National Political Congress of Black Women had accused the NAACP of sexism for not withdrawing Shakur's nomination for outstanding lead actor in a motion picture (for his role in John Singleton's "Poetic Justice"). Shakur has been charged with felony counts of forcible sodomy and unlawful detainment in New York City, where a woman alleges that Shakur and two other men held her down in a hotel room while a fourth man sodomized her. Shakur was also charged with two counts of aggravated assault in an unrelated incident in which he allegedly shot and wounded two off-duty police officers.
Several celebrities were visibly annoyed by the press's questions about Shakur, and it was stressed several times that Shakur has only been charged with, not convicted of, the crimes.
"These people are innocent until proven guilty," said Jasmine Guy, winner of outstanding actress in a comedy series (for "A Different World"). Guy demanded of one reporter if she had actually heard Shakur's music and, when the reporter said no, said, "Come back and ask me those questions when you have."
Fox TV star Sinbad impishly leaned forward when he had to return backstage and said to the press, "Too bad I couldn't get the Tupac question."
The award for best actor went to Denzel Washington for his role in "Malcolm X."
"Malcolm X," which itself was an object of controversy at last year's Academy Awards when it was nominated for just two Oscars--for best actor and best costume design--received awards in every category in which it was nominated, including outstanding motion picture. In addition, the award for outstanding literary work, nonfiction, went to "By Any Means Necessary: The Trials and Tribulations of the Making of 'Malcolm X,' " by director Spike Lee with Ralph Wiley.
The awards were taped and will be broadcast Jan. 22 at 11:30 p.m. on NBC, preempting "Saturday Night Live."
Here are the major winners:
Entertainer of the Year: Whitney Houston.
Motion Picture: "Malcolm X."
Lead Actor in a Motion Picture: Denzel Washington, "Malcolm X."
Lead Actress in a Motion Picture: Angela Bassett, "What's Love Got to Do With It."
Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture: Al Freeman Jr., "Malcolm X."
Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture: Angela Bassett, "Malcolm X."
Youth Actor or Actress: Jaleel White, "Family Matters."
Comedy Series: "Martin."
Actor in a Comedy Series: Martin Lawrence, "Martin."
Actress in a Comedy Series: Jasmine Guy, "A Different World."
Drama Series: "I'll Fly Away."
Actor in a Drama Series: Blair Underwood, "L.A. Law."
Actress in a Drama Series: Regina Taylor, "I'll Fly Away."
Television Movie or Miniseries: "Alex Haley's Queen."
Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries: Danny Glover, "Alex Haley's Queen."
Actress in a Television Movie or Miniseries: Halle Berry, "Alex Haley's Queen."
Daytime Drama Series: "The Young and the Restless."
Actor in a Daytime Drama Series: Kristoff St. John, "The Young and the Restless."
Actress in a Daytime Drama Series: Victoria Rowell, "The Young and the Restless."
Variety Series: "The Arsenio Hall Show."
Performance in a Variety Series: Arsenio Hall, "The Arsenio Hall Show."
Variety Special: "Sinbad Live From New York: Afros & Bellbottoms."