A flurry of giggles hung mid-air in the foyer of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on an usually chilly day in Beverly Hills. A girrrrl, sis you look fabulous and let me see those shoes followed.
This isn’t just any luncheon ahead of the 92nd Academy Awards, a ceremony, which (again) completely lacks the presence of diversity in its nominees despite a year of laud-worthy films created, directed and starring Black actors. It’s more like a family reunion. It is a family reunion.
ESSENCE’s Black Women In Hollywood awards, for the thirteenth year, fills the gap between the Academy and real life. And in real life, Black women shape culture, tell soul-tugging narratives and create art that will impact generations. So it made sense that Niecy Nash, Melina Matsoukas, Lashana Lynch, and the cast of Pose, along with its executive producer Janet Mock, were feted this year.
By the double doors, Jenifer Lewis stood in waiting, wearing wide-framed sunglasses and a jacket that could double as her superwoman cape. “You good?” a nameless sister asked the mother of Black Hollywood, and last year’s honoree. She nodded.
There was Lena hugging Ava. Bresha greeting Aja Naomi. Issa sharing a joke with Quinta. Ava taking selfies with Billy. And that was all before the actual ceremony, when this year’s honorees reminded us through their moving acceptance speeches why the world needs to turn their attention.
Sitting in crossed chiavari chairs, the room illuminated. Wrapped in billowy white drapes, it made the sacred space appear as if it were a seventh place in heaven; the perfect place to have service.
Each honoree gave their sermon: Lynch reminded us about the “power of Black woman’s self love” because even a dark-skinned Black woman with short hair can still “advance” in Hollywood.
Matsoukas made us feel seen when she shared she was “battling [her] own rage” thanks to White supremacy. Thankfully, she reminded us, as Ava DuVernay reminded her, to step past anger and “reclaim” joy.
Mock, and the cast of Pose, brought us to tears when they shared with us the “intolerance” and violence trans women face daily. Opening our hearts, they shared what we already know: that Black trans women are “worthy of our protection and care.”
And Nash gave a revealing benediction, being transparent about her divorce from her estranged husband. Although her honor was for her work on big and small screens, the actress gave us a moment of transparency, saying this moment in time for any woman “will ultimately grow you, stretch you and make you better.”
Even after Brittany Howard performed an altar call of sorts in her vibrating alto tone, there were more tears, hugs and selfies. Anything to make the afternoon last just a little bit longer.
The 2020 ESSENCE BlackWomen In Hollywood Awards was presented by Ford and sponsored by AT&T Humanity of Connection, Coca-Cola, Geico, Hulu, L’Oréal Paris, McDonald’s and Netflix.