By Jill Serjeant
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "The Help," which chronicled the experiences of black maids in the 1960s, and the comedy "Jumping the Broom" were honored at the NAACP Image Awards on Friday, and the life and career of Whitney Houston was celebrated with rousing gospel songs a week after the singer's untimely death.
The box-office hit about black maids speaking out against their white employers in Mississippi in the early 1960s won best movie and acting awards for Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. The film, Davis and Spencer have been nominated for Academy Awards.
Davis said "The Help" was an important movie because "the maid hadn't been humanized before. I felt she remained a cardboard cut-out" before the movie was made.
"Jumping the Broom" also took home three award, for best actor Laz Alonso, Salim Akil and supporting actor Mike Epps.
The two-hour ceremony recognizing the accomplishments of people of color was tinged with grief over the death on Saturday of Houston, best known for her hit song "I Will Always Love You."
Yolanda Adams, singing with a gospel choir, led the tribute on Friday, belting out a version of "I Love the Lord" from Houston's film "The Preacher's Wife" after video clips of a smiling Houston were shown receiving NAACP awards in the 1990s.
Presenter Sanaa Latham, one of the stars of the movie "Contagion," asked the audience to remember Houston as "a loving mother and extraordinary performer."
The show closed with NAACP best gospel album winner Kirk Franklin singing a version of another Houston hit, "The Greatest Love of All."
Private funeral services will be held for Houston, 48, in her Newark, New Jersey, hometown on Saturday. The singer, who struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for years, was found dead in the bathtub of a Beverly Hills hotel. The cause is still under investigation.
The NAACP Image Awards celebrate the accomplishments of people of color in the fields of film, television, music and literature, and also honor individuals or groups who promote social justice.
In television, Tyler Perry's "House of Payne" won best comedy series and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" took home the best drama series prize.
Regina King won best TV actress for the police drama "Southland," and rapper LL Cool J won best TV actor for his role in "NCIS: Los Angeles."
Grammy and Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson took home the album of the year for "I Remember Me," Cee Lo Green was voted best male artist and jazz singer Jill Scott best female artist.
"Star Wars" creator George Lucas, whose latest movie chronicles the story of African-American Tuskegee airmen in World War Two, received a special award.
(Reporting By Jill Serjeant; Editing by Stacey Joyce)