BEVERLY HILLS, California – Basking in the afterglow of playing a heroine in the prodigious blockbuster Black Panther, Lupita Nyong’o was doing the equivalent of a victory dance at the 11th annual Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards when she presented an award to honoree, Danai Gurira. She, in turn, surprised the Academy Award-winning Nyong’o by serenading her with a very special happy birthday and cupcakes on stage.
Ava Duvernay should soon be joining her on the dance floor when the Selma director shows off her new film, A Wrinkle in Time, like a proud new mother. The woman who directed Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon introduced a special performance by pop stars Chloe X Halle, singing their song, “Warrior,” from the A Wrinkle in Time soundtrack.
These were just two of the highlights — and may not be the best ones, to keep it real — during the 11th annual Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards, appropriately held at the spot where Rodeo Drive empties onto Wilshire Boulevard at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
Returning to its traditional daytime luncheon that precedes the Academy Awards show, the A-list soiree was hosted by actress Yvonne Orji. This year’s program honored actress and comedian Tiffany Haddish; actress Danai Gurira; Emmy-Award winning writer and director Lena Waithe and actress and activist Tessa Thompson. For the fourth consecutive year, the Eseence “Black Women In Hollywood Awards” aired as a prime-time special on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network on March 3, 2018, at 10 p.m. EST.
The highly-coveted exclusive invite, this year’s luncheon was abuzz with a potpourri of gifted actresses, musicians, executives, beauty influencers and entertainers in the industry. After the intimate cocktail reception, some of the biggest names in Hollywood mingled in the lavishly decorated ballroom among legendary actresses 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.
Also in attendance were 2018 Academy Award nominees for “Film of the Year” Daniel Kaluuya, Lil Rel Howery and Betty Gabriel from “Get Out” and Dee Rees, nominated for Best Writing Adapted Screenplay for “Mudbound.”
Some of the highlights of the grand gala included:
- Presenter Lil Rel Howery presenting to his dear friend Tiffany Haddish as she reminisced of their humble beginnings in Hollywood;
- Tiffany Haddish giving a heart-felt, intimate speech on remaining positive throughout all the highs and lows of life;
- Angela Bassett and “Dear White People” director Justin Simien presenting Emmy Award-winning writer and director Lena Waithe with the first 2018 Essence Black Women in Hollywood Ford Vanguard Award;
- Steven Spielberg sharing his love for Lena Waithe and her brilliant talent via highlight video;
- Lena Waithe’s powerful speech about being true to herself regarding her sexuality, and the importance of speaking your own truth;
- Janelle Monae presenting to her dear friend Tessa Thompson after sharing a story about meeting at an audition for the same part years ago; which neither of them landed;
- Tessa Thompson delivered a powerful and empowered speech about equality pertinent to the #TimesUp movement.