ESSENCE EIC Vanessa K. De Luca, Tessa Thompson, Lena Waithe, Tiffany Haddish, Danai Gurira, Yvonne Orji, Michelle Ebanks (President, Essence Communications Inc.), Richelieu Dennis (Founder and Chairperson, Essence Ventures)
The 11th annual Essence Magazine’s “Black Women in Hollywood” Awards luncheon, hosted by “Insecure” actress Yvonne Orji was held on Thursday, March 1 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills days before the Academy Awards are to take place and as we begin Women’s History Month.
The Chicago connection to the event was there. Emmy award winning writer and director Lena Waithe, a Chicago native was presented the first 2018 Essence Black Women in Hollywood Ford Vanguard Award by Angela Bassett and “Dear White People” director Justin Simien and she also received a video congratulation from award winning director Steven Spielberg.
Lena Waithe’s powerful speech was all about being true to herself regarding sexuality, and the importance of speaking your own truth. “So many of our black, gay, lesbian, queer, and trans foremothers and forefather, those that never felt comfortable by their gender, had to hide,” she said “Now look at us, still hiding. Hiding because we don’t want to lose an endorsement deal. Hiding because we want to be normal. Hiding because we don’t want to make white folks uneasy. But most of all hiding because we don’t want to make our own people feel uncomfortable. Being born gay, black and female is not a revolutionary act. Being proud to be a gay black female is.”
Get Out actor Lil Rel Howery, who is also a Chicago native presented the award to his friend Tiffany Haddish who had the crowd cracking up as she shared stories of her early days in acting as well as growing up as a foster youth.
“Me and Rel, we used to be on the telephone talking. I used to be like, ‘Rel, we gon’ make it, man. We gon’ do this, we gon’ have a TV show…And he used to be like, ‘You dream big.’ Yeah, I dream big! You gotta dream as big as possible…And like, look at us now, Rel! Aaaah!” “I’m glad I had those experiences because now when I perform I can come from a place of reality. I know how different people live. Everybody is crazy. It doesn’t matter what your nationality is.”
Tessa Thompson was presented her award by dear friend Janelle Monae. Thompson delivered a powerful and empowered speech about equality pertinent to the #TimesUp movement.
Fresh off the success of Black Panther, actress Lupita Nyong’o presented her “soul sister and patriarchy resister” Danai Gurira with her award and in true sisterhood form, since the day was Lupita birthday as well, Gurira serenaded her with a very special happy birthday and cupcakes on stage.
Ava DuVernay introduced a special performance by pop stars Chloe X Halle, singing their song, “Warrior,” from the “A Wrinkle in Time” soundtrack.
Attendees at the annual Essence Black Women in Hollywood luncheon included Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine and Margaret Avery, as well as Ava DuVernay; Gabourey Sidibe, Janelle Monae, Jay Ellis, Amanda Seales, Mike Colter, Yvette Nicole Brown, Amandla Stenberg, Rep. Maxine Waters, Jussie Smollett, Susan Kelechi Watson, Angela Rye, LaLa Anthony, Essence Atkins, Kym Whitley, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Tina Knowles-Lawson, DeWanda Wise, Ruth E. Carter, Nina Shaw and #MeToo activist Tarana Burke.
La La Anthony
Angela Rye, Antoinette Robertson
Halle Bailey and Chloe Bailey
Betty Gabriel, Lil Rel Howery
ESSENCE “Black Women In Hollywood Awards” will air on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network on March 3, 2018 at 9 pm CST.
All photos: Getty Images for Essence
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