At the BET Awards, Putting Black Designers in the Spotlight

At the BET Awards, Putting Black Designers in the Spotlight

At the BET Awards, Putting Black Designers in the Spotlight

At the BET Awards, Putting Black Designers in the Spotlight

It wasn’t your usual awards show red carpet. There wasn’t, after all, a red carpet. Instead there were nominees and performers and presenters beamed in from their living rooms or movie-magicked sets.

But at the 20th annual BET Awards on Sunday night — for the first time since Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic, and gatherings went virtual and most such events, from the Met Gala to the Cannes Film Festival, were canceled — the people involved (including the host Amanda Seales, against a green screen in her home, Lizzo, Jennifer Hudson and Beyoncé) dressed up for public consumption.

And it was excellent to see.

Not all that long ago, awards shows and pay-to-wear deals had seemed ubiquitous; the celebs like walking high-fashion ads. Then recent televised charity concerts featured artists in their homes wearing T-shirts and sweats to prove they are Just Like Us and suffer the same alienation and disassociation of lockdown. In contrast, the BET Awards may mark the start of a new stage: one in which fashion returns not as marketing tool, but as a statement of personal intent.

No one on Sunday night was asked, “What are you wearing?” No one name-checked a brand (save, sometimes, on Instagram). But the clothes, and the effort involved, still mattered. With what they wore, the artists at the BET Awards honored the occasion, and one another.

“Our culture can’t be canceled” went the tag line for the show. The fashion just amplified that shout into the void.

It started even before the preshow, with Amanda Seales, the comedian who served as host, posting a picture on Instagram of herself in a tiny ruffled red leather minidress — her “red carpet” entrance look — by Khala Whitney, the designer behind Grayscale. It was the first of what Byron Javar, Ms. Seales’ stylist, revealed would be 13 — count ’em — different changes, all from black fashion, jewelry and shoe brands.

While there is increasing talk in fashion about supporting black designers and black-owned fashion businesses, and the need to change the industry, Mr. Javar and Ms. Seales put the words into action. And cloth. Indeed, she practically became a one-woman runway show.

As Terrence J, a co-host of the preshow, toggling between a bright yellow suit and a periwinkle blue jacket, said, “I haven’t worn anything bright or loud for months now,” and it was about time.

So Ms. Seales kicked off the show with a monologue that tackled the racial justice agony and power of the moment while wearing a minidress and matching knee-high boots from the Pyer Moss February collection, shown at the Kings Theater in Brooklyn. That collection was dedicated to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the so-called godmother of rock ’n’ roll, who was also depicted on the dress. The print was drawn by Richard Phillips, a black artist who was wrongfully imprisoned in a Michigan jail for 46 years.

Later, WWD noted, she would change into looks by Romeo Hunte, Sergio Hudson and Brother Vellies (whose founder, Aurora James, has started the 15 Percent Pledge, an initiative urging retailers to devote 15 percent of their shelf space to black-owned brands). She also wore an extravagant custom-made off-the-shoulder ball gown in an African floral print by Claude Kameni, the Cameroon-born founder of Lavie by CK, a New York label known for its use of African wax prints.

Ms. Seales also sprinkled in references to fashion moments in black culture past, like the power jackets-with-matching-hats of Hilary Banks (played by Karyn Parsons) in “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” Before finally wrapping everything up in a leisure suit by Dapper Dan of Harlem.

But before that happened, there was Lizzo — in her backyard, hoisting a drink while wearing a zebra print suit and lace bustier to present the Video of the Year award. And then changing into an off-the-shoulder black velvet dress with a giant white ruffle running over one shoulder and down the side, like a supersonic nod to all the proms that didn’t happen, to accept her award at Best Female R&B/Pop Artist.

Here was Jennifer Hudson, in an emerald green Reem Acra one-shoulder dress with a glittering black fishnet bodysuit beneath, performing Nina Simone’s “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” and Wayne Brady in a gold tux with matching gold bow tie (and matching backup dancers in gold face masks) honoring Little Richard.

  • Updated June 24, 2020

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

There was Alicia Keys, in a sweeping black leather trench, black crop top and black trousers, playing piano on a rain-soaked (tear-soaked) street painted with the names of black men and women killed by the police.

Here was Megan Thee Stallion in teeny Mad Max-esque leather hot pants and a feathered, lariat-festooned top for her video, swapped for a Grayscale dress that played peekaboo with her torso to receive her award for Best Female Hip Hop Artist.

And at the end, there was Beyoncé, receiving the Humanitarian Award (introduced by Michelle Obama, in black jacket), urging everyone to go out and vote “like our life depends on it,” and beatific in a black strapless gown with a sweetheart neckline below a sparkling royal choker, like John Singer Sargent’s “Madame X” reimagined for a different narrative.

In the meantime, however, her appearance, like so many others during the show, was a vote in itself for the power of image; a potent reminder that the red carpet (or what it stands for) can combine gorgeousness and value. Especially if when it returns — if it does — we remember that every pose has content, and the accessories and gowns and tuxes, should be deliberately chosen to make a point, not just profit.

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