The BET Awards, which celebrated 20 years of highlighting excellence in Black-led entertainment, kept much of the focus on topics such as systemic racism and equal rights.

Beyonce reacts after winning the entertainer of the year award on March 30, 2019.
Beyonce reacts after winning the entertainer of the year award on March 30, 2019. (Reuters)

Black power, suffering and the fight for justice took centre stage at the BET Awards on Sunday, the first black celebrity event in the United States since nationwide mass protests broke out this month over systemic racism.

The show, which celebrates black excellence in music, film, sports and philanthropy, was filled with speeches, songs, images of protests and the names of dozens of black men and women who have died at the hands of police in recent years.

Dismantle racist systems

Beyonce, who was given a humanitarian award by former US first lady Michelle Obama for her charitable initiatives, urged the black community to use its vote in upcoming US elections to dismantle "racist and unequal systems."

Beyonce was honoured for her philanthropic work and relief efforts during the Covid-19 crisis.

"We have to vote like our life depends on it, because it does," the singer said.

Beyonce used her platform while accepting the humanitarian award to relay a direct appeal to viewers: Go vote.

“Your voices are being heard and you’re proving to our ancestors that their struggles were not in vain,” said the superstar singer at the BET Awards, which celebrated its 20 years of highlighting excellence in black-led entertainment. 

But the ceremony, filmed virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic, kept much of its focus on topics such as systemic racism and equal rights.

She said voting in the upcoming election was the way to end a “racist and unequal system” in America.

“I’m encouraging you to take action,” she said following an introduction by former first lady Michelle Obama.

The singer dedicated her award to the Black Lives Matter movement and encouraged activists to continue to push forward.

READ MORE: American history shows civil unrest is the only way black voices are heard

Honouring black culture

The awards show, broadcast live for the first time in its 20-year history on America's mainstream CBS channel, featured commercials from the likes of Coca-Cola, Ford, Nissan, P&G, L'Oreal and Facebook that both celebrated the achievements of black people and highlighted the challenges they face.

'Our culture can't be canceled'

A remixed version of veteran New York rap group Public Enemy's 1989 anthem "Fight the Power," featuring photos of this month's street protests, opened the show which had the slogan: "Our culture can't be canceled."

Da Baby's performance of "Rockstar" began with the rapper singing while lying on the ground under the knee of a police officer, in a recreation of last month's arrest and death of George Floyd in Minneapolis that sparked the protests.

Newcomer Roddy Ricch wore a "Black Lives Matter" shirt, John Legend played his ballad, "We Will Never Break," and Alicia Keys sang an emotional new song, "Perfect Way to Die," about the black lives lost over the decades.

The show was a mix of pre-recorded performances and virtual appearances because of the coronavirus pandemic that shut down production of TV shows in mid-March.

Awards went to Ricch's "Please Excuse Me for Being Anti-Social," which won album of the year, Megan Thee Stallion for best female hip-hop artist and Lizzo was named best female R&B/pop artist.

Gymnast Simone Biles and basketball star LeBron James were named sportswoman and man of the year respectively. Nigerian musician Burna Boy was named best international act. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies