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2005 Black Movie Awards

ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Tomorrow night, Turner Network Television will air the 2005 Black Movie Awards which was taped earlier this month. Cedric the Entertainer hosts the ceremony honoring the achievements of blacks in film both in front of and behind the camera. The highlight of the evening was a special tribute to legend Sidney Poitier. The actor received the distinguished career achievement award. Suzanne de Passe is co-executive producer of this year's Black Movie Awards. She is also CEO of de Passe Entertainment. The Hollywood veteran says the evening proved to be extra special.

Ms. SUZANNE DE PASSE (Co-Executive Producer, Black Movie Awards): There was such an incredible energy in the room that night and it sort of brought home the point that we really don't have the opportunity to do this where we're focused only on one medium. I mean, I did the NAACP Image Awards for three years, and that was a great experience, but I never felt that we got to go deeply enough into motion pictures or television or music. In trying to cover a lot of territory, I felt it was--we were not able to dig down to really celebrate the people who are fantastically talented and doing great work in all of the media.

GORDON: We should note that Sidney Poitier receives the distinguished career achievement award, and, you know, he really is, to our community, a treasure. If we use Olivier, as many do, as the top, he is our Olivier and quite frankly stands should to shoulder with him. It is such a distinction that I would think even though he got his just deserts a couple of years ago from the academy when he received the lifetime achievement awards for the Academy Awards, I would think him receiving this and knowing him from his own was very special.

Ms. DE PASSE: I believe it was. The closing line of his acceptance speech, I believe--and I'm loosely quoting--is, "This award means as much to me as any I have ever received in my life." I mean, first of all, the ovation when he came on stage was, I think, shocking even to him because the audience just went bananas.

GORDON: What are the criteria? Who voted on these awards? How did you come up with the nominations, etc.?

Ms. DE PASSE: Well, there are two kinds of awards in the context of the program. One group are honors: distinguished career achievement, rising star, classic Cinema Hall of Fame. And then we honored posthumously Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, of course, was with us to accept, and those honors are voted on by the inner sanctum of film life, the production and a small committee. Whereas the competitive awards--outstanding performance by an actor or actress, outstanding supporting performance by an actor, actress, outstanding achievement in directing screenplay, best motion picture--were voted on by a jury of 100 or more entertainment editors, critics, filmmakers, executives.

And the point I really want to make, Ed, we have a field of five nominees in each category. Yet we were only able to identify three motion pictures where there was an African-American actress in a leading role. Three! So really we're just not creating enough quality roles for actresses of color in leading roles and so it was a very big learning curve for us.

GORDON: Let me ask you something, before we let you go, in terms of the optimism that so many people have shown in the sense that we saw Denzel and Halle win and, of course, we saw Morgan Freeman and Jamie win this past year. There are those that are saying that the doors are finally opening, but there are others who suggest that this is kind of a blip on the screen and it doesn't necessarily mean that Hollywood gets it yet. Where do you stand on that?

Ms. DE PASSE: Well, I would be in the latter group. You know, Morgan Freeman, who is arguably one of the finest actors of any persuasion, should probably have about five or six Academy Awards by now. There's only that one benchmark and the proof will be if in years to come we continue to grow from the acting categories. But what about director? What about best motion picture? What about the people who are going to become the next Morgan and Halle and Jamie and Denzel? How are we going to know about them soon enough so that, you know, half their lives don't have to go by before somebody says, `Good job.'

GORDON: Well, certainly we hope that this is the start of many years to come of the annual Black Movie Awards. The 2005 Black Movie Awards kicks off with my man Cedric the Entertainer playing host and, of course, as we've already stated, a salute to Sidney Poitier and "The Color Purple." We should also note that honors will be given to the small screen as well, saluting "Lackawanna Blues," "Sometimes in April," "Their Eyes Were Watching God" all up for awards.

And, Suzanne de Passe, always a pleasure to talk to you and a legend truly in and of herself, as someone who's been on the front lines and making it happen for a long time and still doing so and this is a testament to it. We appreciate your time.

Ms. DE PASSE: OK. Thank you.

GORDON: It's good to talk to you.

Ms. DE PASSE: Bye-bye.

GORDON: Suzanne de Passe is executive producer of the 2005 Black Movie Awards. The event will be broadcast on TNT tomorrow night. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.