The Beverly Wilshire Hotel was exploding with Black excellence during Essence’s 12th annual Black Women In Hollywood Awards. The ballroom was packed with A-list Hollywood players like Regina King, Angela Bassett, Octavia Spencer, and Ava DuVernay, who came out to celebrate the contributions and achievements of some of Hollywood’s leading female artists.
This year’s honorees were The Hate U Give stars Amandla Stenberg and Regina Hall, as well as with If Beale Street Could Take standout Kiki Layne and veteran actress Jenifer Lewis (Black-ish), who all offered up words of enlightenment, encouragement, and empowerment.
“Sometimes it may feel like we carry a lot of weight but it is because we have been given roots that run deep into the earth,” wax poetic Stenberg, who was the first to receive Essense award at the pre-Oscars luncheon. “We are gifted with a knowingness that often doesn’t need words. A love and protection of our ancestors envelops us and transcends time itself. No matter what we are faced we are wrapped in that protection… we are part of the richest tapestry, one that houses the energy of the past, the present, and the future.”
Not a dry eye was left after an emotional Layne got on stage to accept her award. The rising star made sure to acknowledge those come before her and broke barriers. “This award, in addition to showing me whose already around me, it also reminds me of who has come before and all of the people who had sacrificed so that I could be here, days away from my first Academy awards ceremony representing a James Baldwin adaptation,” she said. “I’m so thankful that I am being shown all of these things and being made aware of this power at this point in my career where it’s just getting started.”
Coming off of a year that saw her make history as the first Black woman to win best actress at the New York Film Critics Circle awards, Hall, who after some funny quips, reflected on her career journey. “I never had a quantum leap that was overnight but there’s so much you learn in the journey. So I’m grateful for that.”
She added, “as I celebrate this, I want to celebrate every woman in this room who — and man, shit y’all are here — who at whatever part of the journey that you’re in because it’s a never-ending journey…but it’s not really about that. It’s about what we show each other. It’s about the love we give to each other. It’s about the empowerment that we feel as people.”
Lewis took the stage to cap off the afternoon, opening up about her early days of dealing with mental illness, depression, and being a victim of sexual assault, and sex addiction. With that said, the self-proclaimed “mother of Black Hollywood” beamed with pride as she celebrated the woman that she is now. “I am now, as you can plainly see, In my skin. I’m happy, free, rich, famous. I’m so amazing I can’t see straight.”
She went to describe how she had “touched bliss” when she took responsibility for own actions, concluding her speech with, “stop pointing the fingers at others and that includes this administration. You take of what’s right in front of you and make a difference in this world.”
Singer/actress Kelly Rowland hosted the event which was also attended by Spike Lee, Tina Knowles, Diddy, Maxine Waters, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Tarana Burke, Lorraine Toussaint, Ryan Michelle Bathe, Meagan Good, Logan Browning, Loretta Devine, DeWanda Wise, MACRO’s Charles D. King, Shangela, and Angela Rye.