AFTER 27 YEARS, THE NAACP'S Image Awards, for positive portrayals in the arts of African-Americans, have finally made it to prime time. "This is our Oscars," exulted comic Sinbad as he arrived at the April 6 gala, which Fox will air on April 23. Inside the Pasadena (Calif.) Civic Auditorium, Oprah
Winfrey, Angela Bassett, Coolio, cohosts Denzel Washington
and Whitney Houston and 2,900 other guests watched as the movie Waiting to Exhale breezed easily to seven awards. (For more information about the presentations, see People Online, page 15.)
At the pre-awards dinner, the action was long on glamor and schmoozing. "I wanted to be comfortable, yet gorgeous," joked Exhale's Bassett, who wore a clingy, black Badgley Mischka (accessorized later in the evening with a best actress trophy).
"There are a lot of deals being made here tonight," noted Hollywood Shuffle director Robert Townsend, as Winfrey, in a blue Valentino, talked business with rapper and Living Single star Queen Latifah
. During the ceremonies, the crowd roared when Houston sang the Waiting theme song, "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)," then fell respectfully silent as Arsenio Hall gave comic Richard Pryor, wheelchair-bound with multiple sclerosis, a Hall of Fame award. Pryor accepted with no cloying modesty. "I love it," he cracked. "It's long overdue."