At its core, the star-studded Black Women in Hollywood is an intimate affair where truths are bared and tears shed, all in the name of sisterhood.
Here, we press rewind and take a look at some of the most unforgettable moments with many unforgettable faces at our celebrated event.
This feature originally appeared in the March 2017 Issue of ESSENCE Magazine.
In front of megastar award recipients Queen Latifah, Zoe Saldana, Mary J. Blige, Oscar nominee Gabourey Sidibe and the legendary Cicely Tyson, presenters Taraji P. Henson and Viola Davis took the occasion to another level. Introducing Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith said, “She can sit in the throne of my soul.” Pinkett Smith had just lost her father, but she didn’t cancel paying homage to her longtime friend. “That moment meant even more,” recalls ESSENCE President Michelle Ebanks.
I want to take this opportunity to talk about beauty. Black beauty. Dark beauty,” said Lupita Nyong’o as she began her acceptance speech for Best Breakthrough Performance. The audience members said a collective amen as the actress talked unabashedly about accepting the skin she was in. The video of Nyong’o’s speech went viral—propelled even more by an Academy Award win for her supporting role in 12 Years a Slave.
In a nod to the celebrities who were champions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Nichelle Nichols and Jim Brown were lauded for their historic involvement. Another “aha!” moment that afternoon came from Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who in 2013 was the first person of color named president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She remarked how things had come full circle. In 1940 Hattie McDaniel was the first Black person to win an Oscar. Said Isaacs, “During that ceremony, Miss Hattie had to sit in the back of the auditorium. But on Sunday night I’m gonna be sitting front and center.”
Paying tribute to just one person wasn’t enough! We acknowledged the Black female cast members of the groundbreaking series Orange Is the New Black. And actor David Oyelowo‘s little girl nearly stole our hearts when she helped him present Gugu Mbatha-Raw with her award. For ESSENCE Editor-in-Chief Vanessa K. De Luca, Common and John Legend performing “Glory” from Selma brought down the house. A few days later, the song went on to win an Oscar.
In 2016 a wave of screen projects featuring us had Hollywood pulsating with new energy. We tap into that power for this year’s event by highlighting women at the forefront of entertainment now and, no doubt, the future.