Beyonce may have been the surprise star of the BET Awards, but the moment that is arguably getting the most attention is actor Jesse Williams discussing race in America.
Sunday's ceremony included various tributes to the musician Prince and performances by artists including Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar, but the “Grey’s Anatomy” actor's much-discussed acceptance speech for the BET Humanitarian Award underscored the political tone of the evening.
"This is for the real organizers all over the country,” Williams said after receiving the prize. “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."
The actor's speech was one of many political moments during the night, though most others focused on the upcoming presidential election. Among other mentions, singer Usher wore a jacket during the ceremony that read "Don't Trump America," while Taraji Henson, who took home the prize for best actress, seemed to refer to the presidential candidate when she said during her acceptance speech, "It's serious out here, and for those that think, 'Oh, he's not going to win,' think again."
Williams' speech centered on police violence against African-Americans and the black experience in America, and by many accounts stole the night.
Meanwhile, Billboard writer Jem Aswad wrote, “It’s safe to say that 34-year-old ‘Grey's Anatomy’ star Jesse Williams stole the BET Awards on Sunday night with a wildly inspirational, confrontational speech that is bound to become a cornerstone of the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Williams highlighted the role of black women as the glue that have historically held the African-American community together, promising "we can and will do better for you," before pivoting to the issue of aggressive policing of the black community.
"Now, what we’ve been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people every day. So what’s going to happen is we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours," he said.
"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."