There is so much good TV that it’s actually a harder job for the NAACP Image Awards to select nominees than at perhaps any other time in American history. So – on some level – I’m sympathetic to the sheer bizarre nature of the nominations this year.
But only to a point. There are some flat-out mistakes here, in addition to the egregious omissions, as I mention throughout. But the TV categories are still – on balance – the most exciting.
Before I get to the TV categories, a word on Entertainer of the Year, which should go to Lil Nas X. He deserves it. He was the most important Black artist of 2021 and managed to put out an incredibly thoughtful debut project in the middle of it all. He showed he was more than a gimmick and it was not clear that this would be the case.
Outstanding Comedy Series
- “Run the World”
- “The Upshaws”
Should Win: Insecure
This is a strong category even with aging “black-ish,” but there’s no better Black comedy than “Insecure” in 2021. The show won last year for it’s perfect leveling up in Season 4. This past season was the final season and it would be the right thing for the Image Awards to take this last chance to honor the show again.
Will Win: black-ish
“Black-ish” won this category 6 of the last 7 years. I think there’s a chance “Insecure” wins again, but “black-ish” is NAACP catnip. So I’m playing the odds here. It’s an upwardly mobile Black family that does deal directly and humorously with issues of the day. It’s long in the tooth, but still a genuinely funny show.
Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series
- Anthony Anderson – “black-ish”
- Cedric the Entertainer – “The Neighborhood”
- Don Cheadle – “Black Monday”
- Jay Ellis – “Insecure”
- Elisha ‘EJ’ Williams – “The Wonder Years”
Should Win: Jay Ellis
First – I’m irritated that Dule Hill isn’t nominated for his nuanced work on the new “The Wonder Years.” Mistake. That said, Cedric is probably – on balance – the most consistently funny performer in this category, but Ellis has the iconic character that single handedly changed Issa Rae’s entire plan for the show. Ellis got a solo spotlight episode that bodies everything else in this category. This should be his award.
Will Win: Anthony Anderson
The NAACP loves Anthony Anderson. It loves “Black-ish.” He wins again.
Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series
- Loretta Devine – “Family Reunion”
- Tracee Ellis Ross – “black-ish”
- Regina Hall – “Black Monday”
- Yvonne Orji – “Insecure”
- Issa Rae – “Insecure”
Should Win and Will Win: Issa Rae
Issa Rae wrapped up “Insecure” beautifully and was hilarious throughout. She should win. And I think she will win if only because the NAACP is likely going to want to honor the most popular show in Black America that is not a “Power” show and it won’t do it in the Comedy Series category.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
- Andre Braugher – “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”
- Deon Cole – “black-ish”
- Laurence Fishburne – “black-ish”
- Kendrick Sampson – “Insecure”
- Kenan Thompson – “Saturday Night Live”
Should Win: Laurence Fishburne
This is a weak category because apparently NAACP Image Awards doesn’t watch streaming shows. If it did, Brett Gray from “On My Block” – the funniest man on TV for my money – and Dexter Darden from “Saved by the Bell” would have Kendrick and Kenan’s slots. Also – where is Marcus Scribner? Anyway, living legend Fishburne is the perfect “black-ish” seasoning: just the right amount to kick it up a notch.
Will Win: Deon Cole
He’s won the last two years and I think he’ll win again. He’s hilarious.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
- Jenifer Lewis – “black-ish”
- Marsai Martin – “black-ish”
- Natasha Rothwell – “Insecure”
- Amanda Seales – “Insecure”
- Wanda Sykes – “The Upshaws”
Should Win: Natasha Rothwell
The one thing NAACP Image Awards has gotten right over the last decade or so is giving Marsai Martin like 8 awards for Diane Johnson. She’s been the best thing about the show from her first scene and she remains the best thing. But Natasha Rothwell deserves this award and it’ll be the last chance for the NAACP Image Awards to honor her. It should.
Will Win: Marsai Martin
See above. The Image Awards love her.
Outstanding Drama Series
- “All American”
- “Godfather of Harlem”
- “Queen Sugar”
Should Win: Queen Sugar
This is a bizarre set of nominees, which is par for the course in this category historically. “All American” has been one of the three or four best Black shows on TV for its entire run and “Queen Sugar” is the best Black drama we’ve ever had. The other nominees here are … ok. But how in the WORLD did they not nominate “Lupin” which was a whole-ass sensation last year. So I give this to “Queen Sugar,” which has only won once – for its first season.
Will Win: Queen Sugar
This one is hard to call because the NAACP Image Awards nearly always gotten this category totally wrong. So I think “Queen Sugar” wins.
Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series
- Sterling K. Brown – “This is Us”
- Damson Idris – “Snowfall”
- Billy Porter – “Pose”
- Kofi Siriboe – “Queen Sugar”
- Forest Whitaker – “Godfather of Harlem”
Should Win: Billy Porter
This category doesn’t include Omar Sy of “Lupin,” O’Shea Jackson Jr from “Swaggers,” or Cress Williams who has anchored “Black Lightning” like the veteran character actor that he is – which makes this all kind of silly. Billy Porter is a magnetic, beautiful, brilliant screen presence and “Pose” gives him material made for the Emmys. So he should win here, but Kofi is a closer second than I think anyone appreciates.
Will Win: Sterling K. Brown
This is a toss-up for me between Kofi – who has shockingly, maddeningly never won in this category – and Sterling. I think Sterling edges out Kofi because he’s a beloved, well-respected actor.
Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series
- Angela Bassett – “9-1-1”
- Dawn-Lyen Gardner – “Queen Sugar”
- Queen Latifah – “The Equalizer”
- Octavia Spencer – “Truth Be Told”
- Rutina Wesley – “Queen Sugar”
Should Win: Dawn-Lyen Gardner
Gardner has been the best Black actress on TV from her first frame on “Queen Sugar.” And rather stupidly this is her first nomination in this category. Just…fuckin stupid. She has the best character and writing of any of these nominees, which helps but doesn’t obscure the fact that she is acting circles around the other actors in this category (yes – that includes Angela Bassett).
Will Win: Angela Bassett
She’s Angela Bassett and she did get some good writing with the kidnapping arc, so…
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
- Giancarlo Esposito – “Godfather of Harlem”
- Daniel Ezra – “All American”
- Alex R. Hibbert – “The Chi”
- Joe Morton – “Our Kind of People”
- Cliff “Method Man” Smith – “Power Book II: Ghost”
Should Win: Alex R. Hibbert
Daniel Ezra is number 1 on the call sheet and top-billed on “All American” so his inclusion here rather than in the Outstanding Actor category is a deeply fuckin stupid mistake. If ever we needed evidence that the Image Awards don’t watch TV, his nomination in the wrong category is Exhibit A. He’s giving the best performance of any actor in this list, but I don’t think he should be awarded here. I’m going to give it to young Hibbert, who remains the only reason to care about “The Chi.”
Will Win: Method Man
Meth went from one of the 10 best emcees of all time to a well-respected actor with his turn on “Ghost.” It’s a good performance and I think the NAACP would like to get some street cred by giving Meth an acting award. I could see Joe Morton win here though.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
- Mary J. Blige – “Power Book II: Ghost”
- Bianca Lawson – “Queen Sugar”
- Susan Kelechi Watson – “This is Us”
- Chandra Wilson – “Grey’s Anatomy”
- Alfre Woodard – “SEE”
Should Win: Susan Kelechi Watson
Quiet as its kept, I don’t think Sterling K. Brown would be half as good without Watson opposite him. And he’s a brilliant actor. That is how good Watson is as Beth. She’s working on so many levels that it’s astonishing. Her mere presence in a scene elevates it. She’s full-body bringing it and it’s incredible.
Will Win: Mary J. Blige
See above re: Meth. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if Alfre or Chandra slides in here, but I think the NAACP will wanna show love to the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul who already has an Oscar nomination under her belt.
Outstanding Television Movie, Limited-Series or Dramatic Special
- “Colin in Black & White”
- “Genius: Aretha”
- “Love Life”
- “Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia”
- “The Underground Railroad”
Should Win: Love Life
“Love Life” was my second favorite show of 2021. We just don’t have that many shows that are about the inner emotional and romantic lives of Black men. It’s perfect and it should win.
Will Win: The Underground Railroad
I think this is a toss-up between “Colin in Black & White” and “The Underground Railroad” – both worthy shows. The latter seems tailor-made for the NAACP so I’m going to give it to the great Barry Jenkins here.
Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie, Limited-Series or Dramatic Special
- William Jackson Harper – “Love Life”
- Kevin Hart – “True Story”
- Anthony Mackie – “Solos”
- Jaden Michael – “Colin in Black & White”
- Wesley Snipes – “True Story”
Should Win: William Jackson Harper
William Jackson Harper was both straight man and the weirdest comic delight on “The Good Place” – a role he should have had at least one or two Emmys and Image Awards for – so to see what he does here in a dramatic role is a true revelation. He can be vulnerable and loathsome and pathetic and utterly charming – sometimes in quick succession. It’s a performance of uncommon depth and subtlety that has to suggest Every (Black)man, but in a way that invites all different kinds of Black men to empathize. And he pulls it off. It’s the best TV performance of 2021 and he deserves it here.
Will Win: Wesley Snipes
He’s a legend and he got the best reviews in the show – and his best reviews in years. I think the NAACP will wanna show him some love.
Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Limited-Series or Dramatic Special
- Danielle Brooks – “Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia”
- Cynthia Erivo – “Genius: Aretha”
- Betty Gabriel – “Clickbait”
- Taraji P. Henson – “Annie Live!”
- Jodie Turner-Smith – “Anne Boleyn”
Should Win: No idea
I didn’t see any of these other than “Annie Live!” so I can’t really critique. I will say that it’s a fuckin travesty that Thuso Mbedu from “Underground Railroad” isn’t nominated here. She should be here.
Will Win: Danielle Brooks
I think it’s a toss-up between Brooks and Erivo, and Brooks is less controversial. So that’s my guess.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Television Movie, Limited-Series or Dramatic Special
- Tituss Burgess – “Annie Live!”
- Will Catlett – “True Story”
- Keith David – “Black As Night”
- William Jackson Harper – “The Underground Railroad”
- Courtney B. Vance – “Genius: Aretha” (National Geographic)
Should Win: No idea
I didn’t see all of these, but I want to say Harper because I saw his work and it was remarkable.
Will Win: Courtney B. Vance
He’s Courtney B. Vance, he’s always terrific, and he’s well-respected. I think he gets this.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Television Movie, Limited-Series or Dramatic Special
- Sheila Atim – “The Underground Railroad”
- Regina Hall – “Nine Perfect Strangers”
- Anika Noni Rose – “Maid”
- Natasha Rothwell – “The White Lotus”
- Pauletta Washington – “Genius: Aretha”
Should Win: No idea
Again – I didn’t see all of these so can’t call it.
Will Win: Pauletta Washington
She’s a well-respected stage actress and she’s in a film about Aretha. I think she wins.
Outstanding Performance by a Youth (Series, Special, Television Movie or Limited-Series)
- Eris Baker – “This Is Us”
- Miles Brown – “black-ish”
- Alayah “Lay Lay” High – “That Girl Lay Lay”
- Celina Smith – “Annie Live!”
- Elisha ‘EJ’ Williams – “The Wonder Years”
Should Win: Elisha Williams
It’s weird that they didn’t just nominate Miles Brown in the Supporting category like they did for Marsai. But … the Image Awards are always weird AF. These are all wonderful performers, but I think this should go to young Williams who is anchoring a not-as-good-as-it-should-be “The Wonder Years” with aplomb.
Will Win: Celina Smith
Smith was a winning Annie in performance, if not song. And I think the NAACP gives it to her for degree of difficulty – performing live is HARD – as well as the quality of the work.
Outstanding Guest Performance
- Erika Alexander – “Run the World”
- Alani “La La” Anthony – “The Chi”
- Christina Elmore – “Insecure”
- Daniel Kaluuya – “Saturday Night Live”
- Maya Rudolph – “Saturday Night Live”
Should Win: Erika Alexander
This is a category that the NAACP Image Awards hands out infrequently. Of the performers here, Alexander is the strongest. She’s funny and steals scenes without raising the spectre of Maxine Shaw.
Will Win: Daniel Kaluuya
I’m loathe to do this because I think “Saturday Night Live” should have been cancelled after Eddie Murphy left, but I’m giving it to Kaluuya because he’s the movie star in the category. But I could see this going to Rudolph (who is probably the only person to make me laugh at a post-Murphy SNL).