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BET Awards Put Black Lives at Center of Socially Distant Show

BET Awards Put Black Lives at Center of Socially Distant Show

Political performances by Public Enemy, DaBaby, Alicia Keys and John Legend, civic-minded speeches by Michelle Obama and Beyoncé, and persistent tributes to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor led a virtual, mostly socially distanced and social justice-themed version of the BET Awards on Sunday, the first major awards show of the pandemic era.

The host, Amanda Seales, a comedian, actress and activist, cited “Covid and cops and Karens gone wild” as the reason for an atypical event, but insisted in her opening monologue: “We had to do the awards. We deserve a break. And when I say we, I mean all us black folks.”

Nearly every act, appearance, acceptance speech and even advertisement that followed made some reference to the wave of protests against police brutality that spread worldwide after Floyd was killed in Minneapolis on Memorial Day, bringing renewed attention to many other cases of black people who have suffered at the hands of law enforcement or racist violence.

The awards show, which was made up of taped performances and speeches because of the virus, aired for the first time on CBS, in addition to BET, following the merger last year of the broadcast giant and Viacom, BET’s parent company. And rather than the lo-fi, at-home performances from couches and kitchens that have become standard television fare during the Covid-19 crisis, BET provided budgets for its far-flung talent to produce remote segments that were often more like mini-music videos than the typically raw and sometimes glitchy live awards-show stagings.

Megan Thee Stallion, who won the award for best female hip-hop artist, performed her hit “Savage” — sans Beyoncé, who appears on the remix — in a “Mad Max”-style desert landscape, complete with a black power fist background, while Legend was joined by a choir in an abandoned warehouse for a rendition of his latest tear-jerker, “We Will Never Break.”

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