LOS ANGELES — Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae and Jazmine Sullivan were some of the big stars using the BET Awards stage to strongly criticize the Supreme Court’s recent decision to strip away women’s constitutional protection for abortion.
Henson took the stage as the show’s host on Sunday with an uplifting message about “Black excellence” before she launched into the court’s overturning of the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling last week. The actor took the stage after Lizzo opened the show with a flute solo in a glittery-gold outfit performing her single “About Damn Time.”
“It’s about damn time we talk about the fact that guns have more rights than a woman. It’s a sad day in America,” said Henson, thanking Lizzo who along with Live Nation recently donated $1 million in tour proceeds to Planned Parenthood. “A weapon that can take lives has more power than a woman that can give life – if she chooses to.”
Janelle Monae held up her middle finger toward the Supreme Court before she introduced nominees for best female R&B/pop artist. Her speech earned a standing applause at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.
“These artists are making art on our own terms, owning our truths and expressing ourselves freely and unapologetically in a world that tries to control and police our bodies, my body and our decisions, my body,” said the singer, who also paid homage to the LGBTQ+ community. “(explicit) you Supreme Court. I know we’re celebrating us right now as we should. We absolutely deserve to celebrate — especially now we should celebrate our art by protecting our right and our truths.”
Afterwards, Monae introduced Sullivan as the category’s winner — who made a plea to men for their support of women.
“It’s a hard time for us,” Sullivan said. “I want to speak directly to the men: We need y’all. We need y’all to stand up, stand up for us, stand up with us. If you’ve ever benefitted from a woman making one of the toughest decisions of her life, which is to terminate a pregnancy, you need to be standing. This is not just a woman issue. This is everybody’s issue. We need your support more than ever.”
Latto gave an emotional speech after she won best new artist.
“It’s giving pro-choice,” said the rapper, who later performed her smash hit “Big Energy” with Mariah Carey. “It’s never giving a man policing my body.”
Singer Tems dedicated her best international act award to the many women who “dare to dream.”
“Where I’m from, things like this don’t happen,” said the Lagos, Nigeria-born singer who won best collaboration with Justin Bieber and Wizkid for their song “Essence.” “This is a dream. If you’re watching me, I want you to imagine yourself as me because you are meant to be here too.”
Doja Cat entered the show as the leading nominee with six. The chart-topping performer is up for best female R&B-pop artist, best female hip-hop artist, album of the year for her No. 1 hit “Planet Her” and BET Her for “Woman.” Her “Kiss Me More” with SZA is nominated for video of the year and best collaboration.
Sean “Diddy” Combs will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award — one of the highest honors at the ceremony. The music mogul is the founder of Bad Boy Records, has his own television network, fashion line and is a three-time Grammy winner who has worked with a slew of top-tier artists including Notorious B.I.G., Mary J. Blige, Usher, Lil Kim, Faith Evans and 112.
Drake and Ari Lennox were the second-most nominated acts, scoring four nods each. Three nominations went to several others including Baby Keem, Silk Sonic, Chloe Bailey, Future, H.E.R., Jazmine Sullivan, Ye (formerly known as Kanye West), Kendrick Lamar, Lil Baby, Mary J. Blige and Tems.
Jack Harlow performed “Poison” alongside Lil Wayne before Brandy hit the stage with him for his hit “First Class.” While Harlow and Brandy performed, the camera turned to her brother, Ray J, who was seen dancing in the audience.
Chance the Rapper and Joey Bada$$ performed “The Highs & the Lows.” In her pink gown, Muni Long opened her set with a snippet of “Time Machine” before her jam “Hrs & Hrs.”
The winners in the 19 categories, including film and sports awards, are selected by BET’s Voting Academy, comprised of entertainment professionals and fans.