By Nichola Groom
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actress Kerry Washington was the big winner at the NAACP Image Awards on Friday, picking up awards for her roles in the slavery-era Western film "Django Unchained" and television drama "Scandal," as well as a special honor for professional achievement and public service.
But on a night that celebrated the successes of artists of color, actor and activist Harry Belafonte struck a somber note when he admonished the black community for failing to speak out in favor of gun control, saying "the group most devastated by America's obsession with the gun is African-Americans."
Washington received the best supporting actress in a movie award for her role as a slave in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" and best actress in a television drama for "Scandal," in which she plays a crisis-management expert.
"This award does not belong to me. It belongs to our ancestors," Washington said in accepting her award for "Django Unchained," which has received a mixed reaction from the black community for its portrayal of slavery and its violence.
Both Washington and "Django" co-star Jamie Foxx, who received the entertainer of the year award, thanked Tarantino for making the film.
"'Django' was an absolute blessing of a movie," Foxx said. "Thank you Quentin Tarantino for having the courage to do it."
"Django" failed to pick up the image award for best movie, losing to "Red Tails," a film about African-American wartime pilots.
The NAACP also honored Washington with a special award for both her political activism, including her work on President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, and for being the first black woman in 40 years to star in a prime-time drama on network television.
"I stand here tonight on the shoulders of those who have blazed a path of art and activism," Washington said, mentioning Belafonte specifically.
Belafonte took the stage later to accept his own special award for his decades of political activism. He used his speech to implore the black community to support gun control, an issue that has received heightened attention since a December shooting at a Connecticut school killed 20 children and six adults.
"In the gun game, we are the most hunted. The river of blood that washes the streets of our nation flows mostly from the bodies of our black children," Belafonte said. "Where is the raised voice of black America? Why are we mute?"
The night's other winners included Denzel Washington, who won the best actor in a movie award for his role as an alcoholic pilot in "Flight," and LL Cool J, who picked up best actor in a TV drama for "NCIS: Los Angeles."
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.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, founded in 1909, is the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the United States.
(Reporting By Nichola Groom; Editing by Eric Beech)