During an emotional luncheon, Essence magazine honored black women in Hollywood, with presenters and honorees frequently tearing up or sobbing. A performance by Common and John Legend helped add to the emotion in the room at the Beverly Wilshire on Thursday.
Gina Prince-Bythewood kicked off the doings referencing her athletic days at UCLA. “We are playing in someone else’s house, but it doesn’t matter. Tune out the BS,” she said as she presented the Discovery Award to shorts filmmaker Iman N. Milner.
“Your mere existence is a reminder to keep fighting,” Milner told the guests, who included Oprah Winfrey, Alfre Woodard, Essence mag president Michelle Ebanks, Carmen Ejogo and Aja Naomi King, as she tearfully accepted her prize.
Lupita Nyong’o presented to the cast of Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black,” and Adrienne C. Moore, Danielle Brooks, Laverne Cox, Lorraine Toussaint, Samira Wiley, Uzo Aduba and Vicky Jeudy all crowded onstage to accept the Vanguard Award. “We’ve all been told we’re too tall, too fat, too black, not woman enough,” Brooks said. “I’ve learned we’re right the way we are. … I hope we continue to inspire people with all we are and the essence of who we are.”
David Oyelowo was joined by his daughter, Zoe, to honor Gugu Mbatha-Raw, although he quipped, “I am not going to show ‘Beyond the Lights’ just yet to my 3-year-old daughter. I’m going to wait till she’s 45.”
Mbatha-Raw questioned if she”qualified” for the Lincoln Breakthrough of the Year award. “I am black and white and British, not African-American.” Still, she also said, “I feel so supported and privileged, and I feel a responsibility on my shoulders. … Harness who you are without others labeling you.”
The Fierce and Fearless prize was presented by Mara Brock Akil to Regina King, who started as a child actress on TV show “227.” “Thirty years, has it been 30 years? I’m only 32,” King said. “I’ve worked with half this room, and the rest are my friends. Shonda (Rhimes, ‘Scandal’ showrunner) and Mara, what you have done for us actors, giving us roles that are layered, is beyond — I don’t have the words. I can only hug you really, really tight.”
The final award of the day was presented by Ava DuVernay to costume designer Ruth E. Carter, who has worked with an impressive list of helmers from Spike Lee and John Singleton to Steven Spielberg and Keenen Ivory Wayans. Carter designed the outfits for DuVernay’s “Selma.” “I think it is special (that) Essence is giving its Visionary Award to a costume designer,” DuVernay said.
Carter related a chat with Winfrey during the filming of “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” “Oprah said, ‘Art is prayer.’ That was an aha moment. I had been seeking a deeper spiritual life my whole life and didn’t know I was already on it.”
OWN will air the eighth annual luncheon as a primetime special on Feb. 21.
(Samira Wiley, Adrienne C. Moore, Danielle Brooks, Lorraine Toussaint, Laverne Cox, Vicky Jeudy and Uzo Aduba accept the Vanguard Award onstage at the eighth annual Essence Black Women in Hollywood luncheon at the Beverly Wilshire hotel.)