- Associated Press - Friday, February 17, 2012

LOS ANGELES (AP) - “The Help” collected three prizes at the NAACP Image Awards, including top actress honors for Viola Davis, the supporting actress prize for Octavia Spencer and outstanding motion picture.

Davis and Spencer have collected armloads of accolades for their work in the film about black maids who speak out against their white employers during the civil rights movement. Both are up for Academy Awards next week.

Davis said the film has “just been the joy of my life.”

“I found my voice,” she said. “I just emerged through `The Help.’”

The ceremony Friday at the Shrine Auditorium, which honored diversity in the arts, was punctuated by moving tributes to Whitney Houston, the Black Stuntmen's Association and George Lucas and the Tuskegee Airmen.

Yolanda Adams sang the spiritual song “I Love the Lord, He Heard My Cry” as part of a tribute to Houston, who died last week.

“We love you, Nip,” Adams said as she finished the song, referring to the singer’s nickname.

Footage of Houston accepting the Image Award for outstanding female artist in 1994 was shown, as was Denzel Washington’s presentation of that award, in which he called her an “artist of unparalleled stature.”

Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte presented the President’s Award to the Black Stuntmen's Association, which was established in 1967 to break racial barriers and earn black performers a place alongside white stuntmen in film and television.

They preceded their presentation with a comic exchange on stage.

“We are not stuntmen,” said Poitier, 85.

“Sidney, just the fact that we’re standing here, we could be stuntmen,” the 84-year-old Belafonte quipped.

Some of the original members of the Black Stuntmen's Association were on hand to accept the award.

Samuel L. Jackson presented Lucas with the Vanguard Award. The filmmaker was honored for his body of work, including the recent “Red Tails,” which tells the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, several of whom were in the audience. While some of the elderly airmen struggled to stand, the audience rose to their feet to welcome them with a standing ovation.

Lucas said he made the film to be inspirational, patriotic and to “show that everybody has contributed to building this country into what it is today.”

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