How Last Night's BET Awards Felt A Bit Like A Family Reunion

by Jason Francis

Last night, the city of Los Angeles hosted the 2014 BET Awards.

Chris Rock hosted the award show and presented a collection of accolades and performances that crossed a range of entertainment fields. We also saw a glimpse of young musical talents via BET's "Music Matters" campaign and celebrated the lives of those we've lost.

I can't help but feel a degree of imbalance in watching the BET Awards. One minute, we're watching the recently incarcerated Chris Brown perform a song called "These H*es Ain't Loyal" to a national audience, then we get a gospel selection that praises Jesus.

To me, it just feels off. Is it possible to honor all types of musical expression while presenting a single message of what we, as a group of people, stand for?

As stated earlier, the BET Awards featured its "Music Matters" campaign, which gave a space for young, emerging talents to perform and showcase their abilities.

The unfortunate part was that the music didn't seem to matter enough, as the segments were all cut off at around 20 seconds for commercials. Hopefully, the momentary exposure will lead to bigger things for these artists.

It's this level of questionable presentation that makes it so hard to fully enjoy this awards show.

On the positive side, there were still a number of quality moments last night: Chris Rock came with A+ material — all audience members were subject to becoming a punchline.

Posing the question of how many people really know about the BET awards, Rock cut to a recorded segment of him interviewing people at a Monster Truck event.

Those interviewed, as you could guess, didn't know a thing about BET. The question, "How is NWA?" resulted in a half-guess half-reply of "National White Association." Delivering that touchy, sensitive social commentary via comedy has always been a strong point for Rock.

In terms of the awards themselves, Pharrell Williams took home the Best Male Pop Artist and Best Video awards with his smash, feel-good hit, "Happy."

Beyoncé won Best Female Pop Artist and Best Collaboration for "Drunk in Love" with Jay Z. Drake won Best Male Hip-Hop Artist and Nicki Minaj won her fifth-consecutive Best Female Hip-Hop Artist award.

Other winners included Serena Williams, Kevin Durant, "12 Years a Slave," Lupita Nyong'o, Jhene Aiko and Lionel Richie, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award.  Black entertainment is such a difficult genre under which to group everything together in one singular manner.

It always results in something feeling amiss. It's like at family reunions: Everyone is related, but clearly there are things that the younger members do and are into that just don't resonate with the older relatives. Trying to find a middle ground can be tricky.

We saw an abbreviated ode to the R&B music of the 90s with the return of Troop, Silk and Color Me Badd, which was great for many, though those under the age of 20 were likely watching with confused faces and asking, "Who are they?" Regardless, the nostalgic moment went over well.

It's very rare, in this age of entertainment, to be able to satisfy all people. From a cultural perspective, you want an event like this to be a respectful and expressive while acknowledging those who set the course to get us here.

To that end, the true highlight of the evening came in a three-part reflection on our civil history.

BET Network CEO Debra Lee addressed the crowd to talk about the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

We are here on this stage tonight because this generation of citizens stood, marched, sat, moved and refused to move in order to make this country better, she said.

Lee then presented the BET Humanitarian Award to civil rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of murdered civil rights leader Medger Evers.

She then spoke on the progress we have made and reflected back on the times when TV networks would literally blackout programs when people of color were on the screen. After her moving speech, Phylicia Rashad came forth to pay tribute to the remarkable lives of Ruby Dee and Maya Angelou.

With BET, you get ratchet and civil rights, gangsta and gospel all in the same show --  it's very hard to digest it all. It leaves you feeling that it could be done better, that something is still off.

I don't know if it's possible to include so many elements artfully, but at the very least, the platform is there to celebrate the artists.  Like family reunions, if you can't enjoy the entire meal, at least appreciate that there is definitely something for everyone.

Photo Courtesy: Instagram