This week, the Paley Center for Media in New York City paid tribute to African-American achievements in television, saluting seven decades of groundbreaking accomplishments across a diverse group of genres including drama, comedy, news, talk, sports, music, and variety.
“Television, more than any other medium, has paved the way for social change, and this momentous African-American tribute is a great expression of the Paley Center’s mission to highlight the critical role of media within our society,” said Maureen J. Reidy, President and CEO of The Paley Center for Media. “The renowned Paley Archive will come to life during our salute with an expanded African-American media collection of iconic trailblazers and critically acclaimed programs of historical importance spanning seven decades.”
The tribute featured influential industry pioneers sharing pivotal television moments that have made a lasting impact on American culture. With milestones in 2015 such as the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, where media played a profound role in galvanizing public support for its passage, and the 35th anniversary of Black Entertainment Television (BET), the Paley Center event showcased how the small screen has both engendered and reflected the strides made towards social change. Accomplished scholar, author and filmmaker Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was a part of the Paley Center’s production team, led by Maureen J. Reidy and Diane Lewis, as special advisors of the tribute, along with producer Jayson Jackson, head writer Trey Ellis, and writer Ajani Jackson.
“I am honored to participate in The Paley Center for Media’s remarkable
tribute to African-American achievements in television to showcase the
rich diversity of expression and creativity over seventy years,” said
Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., special advisor of the Paley Center
tribute. “The evening will be historic in spotlighting television’s
important cultural impact.”
Special guests and presenters included American television writer and producer Mara Brock Akil (Girlfriends), actor Anthony Anderson (Black-ish), legendary actress Diahann Carroll, Empire creator Lee Daniels (The Butler) and media mogul Oprah Winfrey among others.
The honor comes on the heels of several shows, created by African American directors, with Black casts that had hugely successful first seasons in the past six months including Empire (Lee Daniels) on the Fox network and How to Get Away with Murder (Shonda Rhimes) on ABC. Both have been signed on for second seasons.
Oprah Winfrey, CEO OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network; 21st Century Fox/Fox Audience Strategy; AOL, Inc.; CBS Corporation; Hearst Corporation; Mel and Terry Karmazin; The Loreen Arbus Foundation; Dick Parsons; The Walt Disney Company; and Viacom/BET Networks served as event co-chairs of the black tie celebration that took place at Cipriani Wall Street in NYC.
Below are snippets of Associated Press red carpet interviews:
Kerry Washington (Scandal): “It’s really special to be able to celebrate excellence in television with our groundbreaking heroes and sheroes. I’m really proud to be here.”
Legendary actress Cicely Tyson: “I first want to say that it’s long overdue. And it’s the first time that I’m aware of the fact that any network thought enough of a group of people that made incredible contributions to building that network to say thank you to them. And I’m really thrilled.”
Actress Tracee Ellis Ross (Girlfriends, black-ish): “I don’t think television yet represents what our world looks like. And no, to answer your question, not only do I NOT think it’s a surprise that our shows are a success, and I say our, as in ‘black-ish,’ I think it’s funny that people keep thinking that it’s a surprise or exciting that these shows are successful; they are well-written and filled with wonderful actors and they tell the American story of families or the journey of a single woman like ‘Being Mary Jane’ or ‘Orange is the New Black,’ telling that perspective of a story and the color of people’s skin has nothing to do with whether that story is interesting or not.”
According to the Paley Center, proceeds from the evening will benefit its programs and its ongoing efforts to expand and preserve African-American programming in Paley’s collection, the nation’s largest publicly accessible archive of television, radio, and new media programming from over seventy countries, spanning almost one hundred years. These programs continue to increase the public’s understanding of media and its significance in today’s society through public, industry, international, and education programs for students, teachers, and the general public.
(CLICK HERE for a related article about diversity in television.)