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'Great Debaters,' Tyler Perry Top Image Awards Winners

Denzel Washington's "The Great Debaters" and Tyler Perry's TBS series "House of Payne" took top honors at Thursday night's NAACP Image Awards.

"The Great Debaters" was named top film, while acting prizes went to its stars Washington, Jurnee Smollett and teenager Denzel Whitaker. Washington also directed the film, based on the real-life victories of a black debating team in the 1930s.

"I'll be at that other show next week, but my heart is here," said Washington, who is a presenter at the Feb. 24 Academy Awards. "I'm just so happy to see these young people get recognized."

"Tyler Perry's House of Payne" won for comedy series, and its stars LaVan Davis and Lance Gross won acting prizes. Perry said they had produced 100 shows in a year and that TBS just ordered up another 26.

"Nobody thought it would work," Perry said. "I don't care if a thousand people tell you no, if you get one yes from God, that's all you need to make it. Today I stand here with that God yes."

Janet Jackson won for supporting actress in a motion picture for her turn as psychiatrist in Perry's adaptation of his own stage play, "Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married?"

Jackson later introduced Stevie Wonder as he was inducted into the NAACP Hall of Fame. Wonder used his time onstage to praise the 99-year-old organization, saying "it's through this organization that we now have two (presidential) candidates, one a female and the other an African-American."

"I say let them both win so that we can have a strong, united people of the United States," Wonder said to applause. "I'm very very excited about the possibility."

Special honors at the 39th Image Awards, held at the Shrine Auditorium, went to veteran Oscar-nominated actress Ruby Dee and to singer Aretha Franklin.

Franklin said she was on hand for NAACP's very first awards ceremony.

"I was here when the sets were falling down and cue cards were being written in the wings just before the artists walked on stage," she said. "This is the icing on the cake for me."

Franklin stirred up controversy in recent days with an angry statement criticizing Beyonce Knowles' introduction of Tina Turner at the Grammy Awards as the "the Queen." In his opening monologue, host DL Hughley pointedly called her "the Queen" and joked that he didn't want to get on Franklin's bad side.

"Grey's Anatomy" won for drama series, its star Chandra Wilson won an acting prize, and creator Shonda Rhimes won for writing. The actor in a drama series trophy went to Hill Harper of "CSI: NY," who handed the trophy off to his mother onstage.

"This is for you. Happy Valentine's Day," Harper said. "The Image Award means legacy. This woman represents my legacy."

Harper attended Harvard law school with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, and said backstage that he'd used downtime during the writer's strike to campaign on Obama's behalf. Obama's recent string of successes in the primary campaign had many talking politics onstage.

"This is such an exciting time in our lives. We can all feel the change happening and we all have the power," said "Ugly Betty's" Vanessa L. Williams, winner for supporting actress in a comedy series. "Vote."