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.
Our first luncheon set the bar by saluting Suzanne de Passe, Jurnee Smollett, Jada Pinkett Smith and the late Ruby Dee, all of whom shined so bright. Will Smith couldn’t hide his emotions when his wife spoke of how she and the women in her family were survivors.
Diahann Carroll had guests laughing and crying as she gave advice from her 60 years of experience in entertainment. Also honored: Halle Berry, Gina Prince-Bythewood and Taraji P. Henson.
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.
Presenter Forest Whitaker was a king among these screen queens, including guests of honor Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine and Jennifer Hudson.
Award recipient Kerry Washington and her presenter Adepero Oduye were all smiles; 2011 honoree Viola Davis passed the torch to Octavia Spencer just days before her Oscar win for Best Supporting Actress in The Help.
Gabrielle Union courageously revealed how competitiveness had kept her from being her authentic self. The attendees—including Regina Hall and honorees Oprah Winfrey and Naomie Harris—were moved by her honesty.
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.
A 2012 honoree, Shonda Rhimes once said if legendary director Debbie Allen was ever a recipient, she wanted to give the award to her. Rhimes made good on her promise. Other recipients included actress Tracee Ellis Ross and power lawyer Nina Shaw.
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.