Breakthrough rapper Megan Thee Stallion was among the early winners at the BET Awards, which opened with powerful nods to the anti-racism protests that have swept the world.

The 20th annual awards show – which recognises African Americans and other American minorities in music, arts and sport – took place with a virtual ceremony due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It comes just over a month since the death of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.

The show was opened by Keedron Bryant, the 12-year-old boy whose stirring protest song following the death of Mr Floyd earned him a record deal with a major label earlier this month.

He performed his track I Just Wanna Live before some of the biggest names in hip-hop united for a performance of Public Enemy’s 1989 anthem Fight The Power.

Nas, Chuck D, Black Thought, Rapsody and YG all featured, adapting the words of the song to reflect the current turmoil.

Breonna Taylor, who was shot dead by police in Louisville, Kentucky, in March, was referenced.

Megan Thee Stallion – whose hits include Savage and Hot Girl Summer – won best female hip-hop artist, one of the night’s earliest awards.

Other winners included basketball superstar LeBron James and Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, who won sportsman and woman of the year respectively.

Among the performers near the beginning of the show were John Legend, who sat at his piano to sing his ballad Never Break and rising rap star Roddy Ricch, who performed a medley of his hits High Fashion and The Box.

Host for the evening was comedian Amanda Seales. Beyonce will receive the humanitarian award for her philanthropy work, while tributes will be paid to basketball star Kobe Bryant and rock and roll pioneer Little Richard, following their deaths earlier this year.

Canadian superstar Drake leads the way in nominations with six, ahead of  Megan Thee Stallion and Ricch with five.