The 2022 BET Awards took place Sunday, just days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and rolled back reproductive rights — while simultaneously expanding gun rights in another controversial landmark decision. So, as the emotionally fraught weekend came to an end, many of the award show’s celebrity presenters, performers, and honorees understandably used their time onstage at L.A.’s Microsoft Theater to voice their outrage and dissent.
Host Taraji P. Henson set the tone for evening, thanking Lizzo — who had opened the show with “About Damn Time” — for pledging $500,000 from her upcoming tour to Planned Parenthood (with Live Nation matching that amount). “You are damn right: It’s about damn time we step into our power,” declared Henson. “It is about time we talk about the fact that guns have more rights than a woman. It’s a sad day in America. … A weapon that can take lives has more power than a woman who can give life, if she chooses to.”
However, no BET Awards participant expressed her anger as boldly as the ceremony’s first presenter, Janelle Monáe. After wishing the audience a happy Black Music Month and happy Pride Month, and shouting out “all the gays in the house,” she stated: “These artists making art on our own terms, owning our truth and expressing ourselves freely and unapologetically in a world that tries to control, and police our bodies, mind-body, our decisions, my decision.” She then blurted, “F*** you, Supreme Court”; her F-bomb was censored by BET during the live broadcast, but her middle-finger gesture was clearly shown, so there was no misunderstanding her message — which, judging by the thunderous applause inside the Microsoft Theater, was well-received.
Such sentiments were echoed throughout the three-hour ceremony. When accepting her award for Best Female R&B/Pop Artist from Monáe, Jazmine Sullivan proclaimed, “As always, I do this for the women — for my sisters, especially. It’s a hard time right now for us. I want to speak directly to the men: We need you all. We need y’all to stand up. Stand up for us. Stand up with us. If you have ever benefited from a woman making one of the toughest decisions of her life, to terminate a pregnancy, you need to be standing with us. This is not just a woman’s issue. This is everybody’s issue. We need your support more than ever.” Minutes later, Best New Artist winner Latto tearily spoke out about “a man policing my body” during her own acceptance speech.
Towards the end of the night, the cast of the BET dramedy series Sistas also stated, “In light of the recent reversal of Roe v. Wade and political events affecting our nation, it’s time for sistas across the world to join hands and lift our voices. Hit those voting booths. We cannot afford to be silent — not now. The power to make these decisions belongs to us.”
However, the most powerful and haunting moment of the telecast was the In Memoriam segment, with the first casualty in the montage being “Roe v. Wade.” The tribute then listed various celebrities lost over the past year, including Sidney Poitier, Biz Markie, Michael K. Williams, Andre Leon Talley, and Traci Braxton, but was then jarringly interrupted by ringing gunshots, as hundreds of blurred names scrolled on the screen “in memory of all lives lost due to gun violence.”
The evening had its lighter and more celebratory moments, of course, although the most joyous performance was also a social statement. As Billy Porter took the stage at a time when many fear that LGBTQ+ rights will also soon come under attack by the Supreme Court, Porter’s tribute to ball culture — set to Crystal Waters’s club classic “100% Pure Love” and featuring dancers Dashaun Wesley, Shannon Balenciaga, Dominique Jackson, Shaun Ross, and Kevin Prodigy — was nothing less than a Pride Month spectacular. “The category is culture’s biggest night!” the Pose star, two-time Tony Winner, and activist roared. “We are here, we are queer — get used to it, darling!”
The 2022 BET Awards took place Sunday, June 26 at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles. For a full list of winners, click here.
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