How BET pulled off the awards show we all needed

The BET Awards have always showcased Black America’s entertainment and culture, but, amid a global pandemic and racial justice movement, this year was different.

Jesse Collins served as executive producer for Sunday’s BET Awards, held virtually due to the Covid-19 crisis.

Opening with a rousing remix of the Public Enemy hit “Fight the Power and ending with a moving rendition of “Something Has to Break” from gospel artists Kierra Sheard and Karen Clark-Sheard, the BET Awards hit a note for every mood suited to the times in which we are living.

Collins told CNN the poignancy was purposeful, but exceeded even his expectations.

“Everybody in their own creative way made a statement,” said Collins. “They made a statement that change needed to happen. We always want the show to reflect what the culture is feeling and as best we can to summarize it into a three-hour broadcast. Everybody stepped up.”

Collins, who is also founder and chief executive officer of Jesse Collins Entertainment, said there was collaboration between the artists and the show to produce resonant performances.

Rapper Da Baby’s statement was an overt critique of police brutality, reenacting the death of George Floyd while in the custody of the Minneapolis police during his performance of “Rockstar,” featuring Roddy Ricch.

Jennifer Hudson, John Legend and Alicia Keys also offered emotional performances reflective of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Collins said the goal was to “lean in.”

“Lean in, make the statement and let’s find creative ways to do it throughout the night,” he said. “So that, that’s what we tried to do.”

Collins said they began thinking about creative solutions to the production challenges caused by the pandemic months ago.

“I think in the spring we just kind of realized that, you know, contrary to [what] leadership [was saying] Covid was not going away,” he explained. “The virus was still — is still — spreading and safety was at the top of the list. It became the decision that we just have to do this in a different way.”

Host Amanda Seales did her job from home. All the performances and acceptance speeches were also filmed remotely.

While Collins said he loves “the energy of a live show,” the pre-produced format worked.

And powerful “moments,” like Beyoncé’s call to action for people to “vote like our life depends on it,” abounded on Sunday.

“When in doubt, do what Beyoncé says,” Collins joked. “It’s really a good way to live your life.”

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