During the 85th Academy Award’s week of celebration, Essence Magazine honored six women at their 6th annual Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon inside the historic Beverly Hills Hotel. Honorees included the youngest ever Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis for Breakthrough Performance; UK native Naomie Harris for Lincoln Shining Star Award; show runner and writer Mara Brock Akil for Visionary Award; actress Gabrielle Union for the Fierce & Fearless Award; veteran actress Alfre Woodard for Vanguard Award; and living legend Oprah Winfrey for the Power Award.
The afternoon was filled with tremendous support and positive energy from some of the industries much respected African-American women. Attendees included the first ever black female lead in a sitcom Diahann Carroll, Oscar award winner Jennifer Hudson, spiritual life coach Iyanla Vanzant, international super model Naomi Campbell and more. The afternoon encompassed the essence of sisterhood from women of all walks of life sharing one common bond of telling their story as African-American women in television and film. “The ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood luncheon was created to honor exceptional women who, despite having made extraordinary strides in film and television, are often unrecognized,” states Michelle Ebanks, President of ESSENCE Communications. “We laughed, we cried, and were inspired, as we proudly acknowledged six outstanding women who exemplify the ‘Power of Our Presence’.”
The ceremony was held inside one of the beautiful ballrooms at the Beverly Hills Hotel that represented a perfect blend of sophistication and glamor befitting for the occasion. The musical guest for the afternoon was Grammy award-winning artist Miguel, who serenaded the distinguished audience with his chart topping single “Adorn” from his album “Kaleidoscope.” The room was buzzing from anticipation of acceptance speeches from cast mates, mentors and friends. Quvenzhané Wallis was presented her award by first time recipient of the Breakthrough Performance Award, Jurnee Smollett-Bell. At just nine years old, little Ms. Wallis maintained her composure throughout the mob of press during her arrival at the red carpet to her impressive acceptance speech in front of the large audience of her elders.
Gabrielle Union’s speech rocked the house, as she expressed a vulnerability that only her closest friends would know. In her emotional acceptance, she shared with her peers that she is “now walking in her truth” and challenged them all to do the same. The joy and tears of the struggle of black women in Hollywood was very apparent, as Mara Brock Akil expressed her frustration throughout her career as a female story teller that considered watering down her stories for a white cast. Mrs. Akil was presented her award by the phenomenal cast of the four women from her series ‘Girlfriends,’ that received countless snubs by the Emmy’s during the 8 seasons on-air.
The afternoon came to a close with the powerful presentation and acceptance of Oprah Winfrey’s award. Nine of the most recent graduates from the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa presented the woman whom the affectionately call “Mom-Oprah” with the Power Award. Like most of the recipients, Ms. Winfrey gave credit to Essence Magazine for being a positive representation and inspiration for countless African-American women. In her speech, she mentioned that “The truth is, I try not to let other people define for me whether I have power… I know who I am, and the thing about power for me is that it’s connected to a source that’s obviously greater than myself.”