The box-office hit "Waiting to Exhale" was the big winner at the 27th annual NAACP Image Awards, presented Saturday evening at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.
But if anyone was holding their breath expecting controversy from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was in attendance along with many of the celebrities who declined to join his recent Academy Awards protest, none ever materialized.
Backstage, Jackson made a brief appearance in the press room before the show to talk about his campaign against racial injustice in Hollywood and about his good friend, Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, who died in an airplane crash last week in Croatia.
"The thing about Ron Brown . . . was that he had talent, perseverance, opportunity and determination," Jackson said. "Ron is a trailblazer. He helped to open new doors. Now that his eyes are closed, those doors must not close. We must keep those doors open. That is the fundamental challenge right here in Hollywood. What the Image Awards says to us clearly is that we have the talent."
When asked about Oscar host Whoopi Goldberg's comments during the telecast, during which she seemed to belittle his protest, Jackson declined to comment, saying, "I must really exercise the dignity and the discipline."
Jackson did, however, liken the Rainbow Coalition's protest to difficult struggles from the past.
"Rosa Parks took flak for refusing to go to the back of the bus. It was a nine-year struggle from the back of the bus to the public accommodations bill. On this weekend 2,000 years ago, Jesus took a lot of flak, but in the end the stone was rolled away. . . . I am glad Quincy Jones wore his ribbon [during the Oscar telecast] identifying our struggle and Bill Cosby [wore a ribbon] on Dave Letterman the other night."
Denzel Washington, who co-hosted the four-hour-plus event with Whitney Houston, said he didn't believe the Image Awards was a "payback" for this year's Academy Awards, which saw only one African American nominated. "This award has been going on for 27 years," he said. "It is the celebration of African Americans in the arts."
There was certainly plenty of reason to celebrate for everyone associated with "Waiting to Exhale." The popular adaptation of Terry McMillan's bestseller about the friendship between four African American women received the Image Award as outstanding film of 1995. Angela Bassett won for outstanding actress and Loretta Devine for outstanding supporting actress. The film's platinum-selling album received the awards for soundtrack and album. Whitney Houston took home the female recording artist honors for her performance of the award-winning song from the film, "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)."
Washington was named outstanding actor for "Crimson Tide" and for outstanding performance in an animated/live-action/dramatic youth or children's series/special for HBO's "Happily Ever After."
Laurence Fishburne also won two awards--as supporting actor for "Higher Learning" and actor in a TV movie, miniseries or drama special for "The Tuskegee Airmen." The HBO film about the elite squad of African American airmen during World War II also won outstanding TV movie, miniseries or drama special.
Fox's crime series "New York Undercover" received four awards, including outstanding dramatic series and lead actor in a drama series, Malik Yoba.
Oprah Winfrey presented the Entertainer of the Year award to her friend, Quincy Jones, who also was named outstanding jazz artist for his latest album, "Q's Juke Joint."
A frail but still razor-sharp Richard Pryor was visibly moved with his Hall of Fame Award, which was presented by Arsenio Hall. "I love it," Pryor said, resting the award on his leg. "It hurts my leg, but I love it. I tell you how honored I am. I never thought I would ever be given an award like this from the NAACP. I really am moved deeply and I appreciate it. It's a little long overdue, but I appreciate it so much."
The late actresses Rosalind Cash, Butterfly McQueen, Roxie Roker and Madge Sinclair were also honored with Hall of Fame Awards. Garth Brooks received the Founders Award. LeBaron Taylor, senior vice president of corporate affairs for Sony Music, received the Corporate Award.
The Image Awards, created by the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People in 1962 to honor people and organizations who positively portray African Americans in the arts, was canceled last year because of political and financial problems at the NAACP.
The awards were taped and will be broadcast April 23 on Fox at 8 p.m.