#BETAwards: Beyonce & Drake are big winners, Jesse Williams steals the show, there were still no Africans on stage

The 2016 BET Awards, held Sunday June 26, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, was a well curated show with underlying themes of women empowerment, political activism and positivity.

I will be honest, historically, the BET Awards has not been one that I made a “must watch” or “must attend” event on my list. One key reason is that you never knew what to expect in terms of the classiness of the event. However, since BET implemented the ‘Best International Act Africa’ category in 2010, I have tried to at least watch the annual show. This year, however, it was unequivocally clear from the onset that BET had elevated its event to meet the expectation of its diverse viewers including keeping it classy, all the way. From Beyoncé’s opening of the show to Jesse Williams’ call to action that stole the show to Shiela E.’s flawless tribute to Prince, it was a very tasteful event.

BET also took the show mainstream thanks to Viacom, parent company for BET, who ensured the show was broadcast on its various networks including MTV, Nickelodeon and VH1.

In terms of awards, Beyoncé walked away as the evening’s big winner with four awards out of five nominations. Another big winner was Drake who won three awards out of nine nominations.

The political undertones and women empowerment came in the form of host Tracee Ellis Ross, Samuel L. Jackson (lifetime achievement award honoree), among others, stressing that everyone should register to vote. At some point, Ross pretty much seemed to urge for a vote for Hillary Clinton.

An even stronger political moment during the show was the speech delivered by Grey Anatomy’s Jesse Williams. Williams gave a speech that was a wake up call for blacks and non-blacks to change the plight of black people in America. It was compelling. During his speech, he kept referring to “they,” and honestly, I thought it an irony because the platform to say what he was saying was provided by whites, Viacom, among other ironies. I, nevertheless, thought his speech was very powerful and compelling.

While the 2016 event was well done, what was lacking was still the presence of the African voice during the live broadcast of the event. Six years later, Africans remain absent on BET’s stage, despite BET carving a category for Africans and inviting them each year to the show. In prior history, African artists received their awards backstage. Now, BET has graduated to giving them an award at an event held a day before the main event, but never at the main event.

Falz BET Awards 2016‘One Dance’ by Drake ft. Wizkid and Kyla  is currently one of the top five songs nationally and globally co-written and co-produced by Nigerian artists Wizkid and Sarz. Further, BET now has a strong presence in Africa and has announced plans to further expand BET on the continent, much the same way it has MTV. So, what’s the problem? Why can’t we have even a minute on BET’s stage in America?

What BET did this year was to collaborate and exhibit clothing and music from African artists at the Grammy Museum, but big deal? What’s the reach, scope and accessibility of such works to the global masses? America is a country, Africa is not. Africa has almost a billion people. America’s entertainment products and personalities are over saturated in Africa. Why is it so hard, following the money, to have Africa represented on the BET stage?

We all clap and and say how great Williams’ speech was, because it was. But his speech is not limited to a black vs. white issue. It also includes blacks and their treatment of fellow blacks i.e. Africans and of course vice versa.

In my view, which is yet to change since I began discussing this issue six years ago, the status quo needs to change. I believe, however, that change will come when African artists and their fan base remain persistent through action and words in insisting on change.

-Ms. Uduak

Check out the full list of winners and the speech by Jesse Williams:

Jesse Williams’ Full Speech

“Peace. Peace. Thank you Debra. Thank you, Nate Parker. Thank you, Harry and Debbie Allen, for participating in that. Before we get into it, I just want to say I brought my parents out tonight — I just want to thank them for being here and teaching me to focus on comprehension over career. They made sure I learned what the schools were afraid to teach us. And also, thank you to my amazing wife for changing my life.

“Now, this award, this is not for me. This is for the real organizers all over the country. The activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. All right? It’s kind of basic mathematics. The more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.

“Now, this is also in particular for the black women in particular who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves. We can and will do better for you.

“Now, what we’ve been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people every day. So what’s going to happen is we’re going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function in ours.

“Now, [standing ovation] I got more, y’all.

“Yesterday would have been young Tamir Rice’s 14th birthday. So, I don’t want to hear anymore about how far we’ve come when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on a 12-year-old playing alone in a park in broad daylight, killing him on television and then going home to make a sandwich.

“Tell Rekia Boyd how it’s so much better to live in 2012, than it is to live in 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner. Tell that to Sandra Bland. Tell that to Darrien Hunt.

“Now, the thing is, though, all of us in here getting money that alone isn’t going to stop this. All right? Now dedicating our lives to getting money just to give it right back. To put someone’s brand on our body when we spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies and now we pray to get paid with brands for our bodies. There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There has been no job we haven’t done. There’s no tax they haven’t levied against us. And we pay all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. You’re free, they keep telling us, but she would have been alive if she hadn’t acted so free.

“Now, freedom is always coming in the hereafter but, you know what, though, the hereafter is a hustle. We want it now. And let’s get a couple of things straight here, just a little sidenote. The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job. All right, stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest in equal rights for black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.

“We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo. And we’re done watching, and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us. Burying black people out of sight and out of mind, while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil — black gold. Ghettoizing and demeaning our creations then stealing them. Gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit. The thing is, though, the thing is, that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real. Thank you.”


Best Female R&B/Pop Artist
Andra Day
Beyoncé – WINNER
K. Michelle

Best Male R&B/Pop Artist
Bryson Tiller – WINNER 
Chris Brown
The Weeknd

Best Group
2 Chainz & Lil Wayne
Drake & Future – WINNER
Puff Daddy & The Family
Rae Sremmurd
The Internet

Best Collaboration
Big Sean feat. Chris Brown & Ty Dolla $ign – “Play No Games”
Big Sean feat. Kanye West & John Legend – “One Man Can Change the World”
Future feat. Drake – “Where Ya At”
Nicki Minaj feat. Beyoncé – “Feeling Myself”
Rihanna feat. Drake – “Work” – – WINNER 

Best Male Hip Hop Artist
Drake – WINNER 
Fetty Wap
J. Cole
Kanye West
Kendrick Lamar

Best Female Hip Hop Artist
Dej Loaf
Lil Kim
Missy Elliott
Nicki Minaj – WINNER
Remy Ma

Video of the Year
Beyoncé – “Formation” – WINNER 
Bryson Tiller – “Don’t”
Drake – “Hotline Bling”
Kendrick Lamar – “Alright”
Rihanna feat. Drake – “Work”

Video Director of the Year
Benny Boom
Chris Brown
Colin Tilley & The Little Homies
Director X – WINNER
Hype Williams

Best New Artist
Alessia Cara
Andra Day
Bryson Tiller – WINNER 
Tory Lanez

Dr. Bobby Jones Best Gospel/Inspirational Award
Anthony Brown & Group Therapy
Erica Campbell
Kirk Franklin – WINNER
Tamela Mann
Tasha Cobbs

Best Actress
Gabrielle Union
Kerry Washington
Taraji P. Henson – WINNER 
Tracee Ellis Ross
Viola Davis

Best Actor
Anthony Anderson
Courtney B. Vance
Idris Elba
Michael B. Jordan — WINNER 
O’shea Jackson Jr.

Youngstars Award
Amandla Stenberg – WINNER
Quvenzhané Wallis
Willow Smith
Yara Shahidi

Best Movie
Beasts of No Nation
Straight Outta Compton – WINNER

Sportswoman of the Year
Cheyenne Woods
Gabrielle Douglas
Serena Williams – WINNER
Skylar Diggins
Venus Williams

Sportsman of the Year
Cam Newton
Kobe Bryant
Lebron James
Odell Beckham Jr.
Stephen Curry – WINNER

Coca-Cola Viewers’ Choice Award
Beyoncé – “Formation” – WINNER
Bryson Tiller – “Don’t”
Chris Brown – “Back to Sleep”
Drake – “Hotline Bling”
Future feat. Drake – “Where Ya At”
Rihanna feat. Drake – “Work”

Centric Award
Andra Day – “Rise Up”
Beyoncé – “Formation” – WINNER
K. Michelle – “Not a Little Bit”
Rihanna – “Bitch Better Have My Money”
The Internet – “Under Control”

Best International Act Africa
Aka (South Africa)
Black Coffee (South Africa) – WINNER
Cassper Nyovest (South Africa)
Diamond Platnumz (Tanzania)
Mzvee (Ghana)
Serge Beynaud (Cote D’ivoire)
Wizkid (Nigeria)
Yemi Alade (Nigeria)

Best International Act U.K.
Krept & Konan
Lianne La Havas
Skepta – WINNER
Tinie Tempah

Photocredit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images North America

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Credited for several firsts in the fashion and entertainment industry, Uduak Oduok (Ms. Uduak) is a fashion and entertainment lawyer, speaker, visionary, gamechanger, trailblazer, and recognized thought leader, for her work on Africa’s emerging global fashion and entertainment markets, and the niche practice of fashion law in the United States. She is also the founder of ‘Africa Music Law,’ an industry go-to music business and law blog and podcast show empowering African artists. Her work in the creative and legal industries has earned her numerous awards and recognitions, including an award from the American University Washington College of Law for her “legal impact in the field of intellectual property in Africa." She has also taught as an Adjunct Professor at several institutions in the United States. For more information, visit her at

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