Chris Pizzello, Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — "The Help" collected three prizes at the NAACP Image Awards, including top actress honors for Viola Davis, the supporting actress prize for Octavia Spencer and outstanding motion picture.
Davis and Spencer have collected armloads of accolades for their work in the film about black maids who speak out against their white employers during the civil rights movement. Both are up for Academy Awards next week.
Davis said the film has "just been the joy of my life."
"I found my voice," she said. "I just emerged through 'The Help.'"
The ceremony Friday at the Shrine Auditorium, which honored diversity in the arts, was punctuated by moving tributes to Whitney Houston, the Black Stuntmen's Association and George Lucas and the Tuskegee Airmen.
Yolanda Adams sang the spiritual song "I Love the Lord, He Heard My Cry" as part of a tribute to Houston, who died last week.
"We love you, Nip," Adams said as she finished the song, referring to the singer's nickname.
Footage of Houston accepting the Image Award for outstanding female artist in 1994 was shown, as was Denzel Washington's presentation of that award, in which he called her an "artist of unparalleled stature."
Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte presented the President's Award to the Black Stuntmen's Association, which was established in 1967 to break racial barriers and earn black performers a place alongside white stuntmen in film and television.
They preceded their presentation with a comic exchange on stage.
"We are not stuntmen," said Poitier, 85.
"Sidney, just the fact that we're standing here, we could be stuntmen," the 84-year-old Belafonte quipped.
Some of the original members of the Black Stuntmen's Association were on hand to accept the award.
Samuel L. Jackson presented Lucas with the Vanguard Award. The filmmaker was honored for his body of work, including the recent "Red Tails," which tells the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, several of whom were in the audience. While some of the elderly airmen struggled to stand, the audience rose to their feet to welcome them with a standing ovation.
Lucas said he made the film to be inspirational, patriotic and to "show that everybody has contributed to building this country into what it is today."
In presenting the award, Jackson said he has always loved "Star Wars" and would have done anything to appear in an installment of the space story. He recalled telling Lucas: "I'll be a Storm Trooper and just run across the screen. Nobody even has to know I'm in it."
Jackson went on to play Mace Windu in the three "Star Wars" prequels.
As part of the tribute to Lucas, Jennifer Hudson and Ne-Yo performed "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" while Lucas sang along from his seat.
Hudson was also a winner Friday, claiming the outstanding album prize for "I Remember Me."
Other winners announced during the two-hour telecast hosted by Sanaa Lathan and Anthony Mackie included Regina King, named outstanding actress for her work in the drama "SouthLAnd," and Tracee Ellis Ross and Malcolm-Jamal Warner for their lead roles in the comedy "Reed Between the Lines."
Radio pioneer Cathy Hughes accepted the Chairman's Award at a separate ceremony in New Jersey that was included in the broadcast on NBC.
Gospel singer Kirk Franklin closed the program with a version of Houston's "The Greatest Love of All" before launching into his uplifting song, "Today."
The Image Awards are presented annually by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the group's members select the winners. As she accepted her award, King thanked the organization for "continuously providing a stage to recognize and applaud us."
"We need it," the "SouthLAnd" star said. "There is some magnificent talent here that would not be recognized otherwise."
AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen is on Twitter: www.twitter.com/APSandy .
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