On Wednesday, February 26, Tyler Perry and ESSENCE hosted a star-studded affair to celebrate a spectacular year for Black men on the silver screen.
The event applauded the work of Spike Lee, Malcolm Lee (The Best Man), Tyler Perry and Sidney Poitier—who received the evening’s Legend award.
The dinner was truly a first of its kind bringing together a robust group of talent, including Omar Epps, Blair Underwood, Shemar Moore, David Oyelowo, Salim Akil, Harold Perrineau, Terry Crews, Terrence J, DeVon Franklin and more.
“I’m so happy that so many people are getting an opportunity to tell their stories, because there’s so much room for everybody’s story,” said co-host Tyler Perry. “That’s why I wanted to do this, I wanted to celebrate all of us and have us all here breaking bread together.”
Tracee Ellis Ross presented the awards to the night’s three honorees, who all gave moving speeches.
“I never in my life had such a warm reception,” said Sidney Poitier, the first Black man to win an Academy Award for Best Actor. He recalled a time “when we gathered in a church basement” and paid tribute to the Black actors who paved the way for him—Paul Robeson, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, and the Nicholas brothers.
Spike Lee noted the achievements made by Black filmmakers this year, but warned the audience not to get “too comfortable,” recalling a similar burst of success 10 years ago. He also cited the need for more Black gatekeepers—those who can greenlight movies—in studios.
Lee’s cousin and fellow honoree Malcolm Lee thanked Spike for inspiring him. He agreed with Perry, stating that there is room for all actors in the industry and a diversity of stories to tell, noting that he and Spike make very different movies.
Host and honoree Tyler Perry spoke about how he achieved success by speaking to and recognizing an audience that did not receive much attention and, as a result, they lifted him to amazing heights. He also implored Blacks to stop relying on others to fulfill their dreams.
“Spike is right about nobody’s in the room [to greenlight their projects]” Perry said. “But I never believed in being in the room. I believed in owning the room.”
The event featured a performance by Ledisi and was a prelude to ESSENCE’s Black Women in Hollywood event.