British Royal Family

The clear message Meghan Markle and Prince Harry sent with their first awards show appearance in the US

They know exactly what kind of platform they have, and they plan to use it for change.

By Maddison Leach
For almost two years, royal watchers and critics have speculated about when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle would make their first US awards show appearance.
Surely they would choose the Academy Awards, the most prestigious event in Hollywood's annual calendar, or the Emmy's after their bombshell Oprah Winfrey interview was nominated for one of the awards in 2021?
As each awards show approached there was talk that Harry and Meghan would make a surprise appearance, but each event passed with no sign of the royal couple. Until now.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle made their awards show debut in the US at the NAACP Image Awards. (Image: Twitter)
On February 26, 2021, Harry donned his finest suit and Meghan slipped into a floating cobalt gown by Christopher John Rogers to make their US awards show debut and send a very loud message that they know exactly what kind of platform they have, and they plan to use it for change.
Stepping out onto the stage at the NAACP Image Awards on Saturday, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex reminded everyone watching that they're so much more than "ex-royals".
Collecting the President's Award in recognition of special achievement and distinguished public service, Meghan made a point to highlight her Blackness and the social causes she and Harry have been working for since exiting the monarchy.
WATCH: Meghan Markle addresses the state of America in the wake of George Floyd's death. Story continues after video.
"We moved to California, my home state, shortly before the murder of George Floyd, and for Black America, those nine minutes and 29 seconds transcended time, invoking centuries of our unhealed wounds," the duchess said in an impassioned speech.
"In the months that followed, as my husband and I spoke with the civil rights community, we committed ourselves and our organisation Archewell, to illuminate those who are advancing racial justice and progress."
She went on to champion the people and organisations working to put an end to racial injustice in the US, something she never would have been able to do as a senior royal.
During her time in the monarchy, Meghan was required to stay silent on political issues due to the royal family's protocol of staying neutral when it comes to politics.
It was a royal rule that chafed at the duchess' incredible sense of social justice, but now she's using her voice and her platform to amplify the causes that have been so important to her for years.
Political neutrality wasn't the only royal protocol she stepped away from during her NAACP appearance either, as she sent a clear message that her values and morals are the new guiding force in her life and work.
Her vibrant gown by Black American designer Christopher John Rogers and black nail polish spoke volumes as royal ladies are expected to shine a light on British labels and keep their manicures as natural looking as possible.
Meghan also brought her mother, Doria Ragland, on stage and gave a special nod to her in her speech: "My mum's here with us tonight and we all feel very proud. Thank you."
The couple brought Meghan's mother Doria Ragland (far right) on stage at the awards show. (Image: Twitter)
It's something we probably never would have seen during Meghan's time as a senior royal, and demonstrates that she's embracing the new freedoms that come with her new path away from the monarchy.
Harry also sent an important message while on stage at Meghan's side, acknowledging his royal upbringing and how it separates him from many of the causes they champion.
"I think it's safe to say that I come from a very different background than my incredible wife. Yet our lives were brought together for a reason," he said after thanking the Black community for welcoming him so warmly.
"We share a commitment to a life of service, a responsibility to confront injustice, and a belief that the most often overlooked are the most important to listen to."
The couple sent a clear message with their appearance. (Image: Twitter)
By choosing the NAACP Image Awards for their first awards show appearance, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have effectively told the world they're not just in the US for glitz and glamour, as so many critics have claimed.
Instead, they used their powerful first appearance – which they undoubtedly knew would generate global headlines – to champion the causes closest to their hearts and remind everyone that they're much more than their royal exit.
The power of Harry and Meghan's appearance didn't go unnoticed, especially by those in the Black community in the US.
WATCH: Harry and Meghan dicuss "damaging and loud" voices online with TIME. Story continues after video.
"Harry and Meghan's first award show being the NAACP Image Awards is a STATEMENT," tweeted Liz Dwyer, managing director of Word In Black, a collaboration of US Black news publishers.
"Plus, Meghan bringing Doria and speaking out about racism — yasss so grateful her voice isn't being silenced anymore. And him thanking Black folk for 'welcoming me so warmly' — they're GOLDEN."
Actor and speaker Daphne O'Neal wrote on Twitter: "In their 5-minute NAACP Image Awards appearance, Meghan & Harry did more to boost the international profile of the org than the best PR firm.
"I bet many of their followers had never heard of it. That's power. That's influence. That's doing good."
Despite using the appearance to break away from many of the traditions they were beholden to as senior royals, Harry and Meghan were still respectful of the institution that had effectively given them their platform.
Harry and Meghan have been championing social and political causes since their 2020 royal exit. (Image: Getty)
Harry spoke fondly of his royal background, while Meghan subtly honoured her late mother-in-law Princess Diana by wearing her yellow gold omega chain cuff bracelet in tribute.
Of course, the couple still faced backlash from their haters, but the message they sent on Saturday rings out much louder than any of the critics who lash them for imagined "royal snubs".