Having attended Essence’s annual pre-Oscar Black Women in Hollywood luncheon the past three years, I can attest that there is no other event quite like it. The gathering, which was held Thursday at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, not only brings together nearly every black actress in film and television—including Oprah Winfrey, Lupita Nyong’o, and Selma star Carmen Ejogo (pictured above)—but there are moments that feel like the best family reunion ever. You see, as a woman of color, to mingle in a room full of high-profile stars who look like me is completely surreal. But what makes the Black Women in Hollywood experience even more dynamic is the incredibly relaxed behavior of these powerful women. Bodyguards and publicists are almost non-exisistent, and whether you’re a celebrity or not, once you’re in the room, you’re treated the same as everyone else.
"The energy is so warm, feminine and supportive,” says actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw (pictured below with author Arkeedah McCormick), who was presented an award by Selma star David Oyelowo. “It’s an opportunity for us to kind of high-five each other and be proud of our community.”
Among all of the heartfelt speeches, perhaps the most powerful came from actress Danielle Brooks, after Lupita Nyong’o presented the African-American cast members of Orange is the New Black with an award. “The one thing that I feel like I've learned by being on Orange, is that we are enough, just the way that we are. We're stripped of the makeup and the hair and we can't hide behind the outfits, and people are having to connect with the core of these characters. We hope that we continue to inspire people to bring to life all of the essence of who we are," she said.
Later in the lunch her castmate, Laverne Cox (below), was all smiles after taking a selfie with Oprah Winfrey. "She grabbed my hand and pulled me to a different area to get better lighting," said Cox. "So yeah, Oprah touched me, and I am deeply touched. It still hasn't fully soaked in."
John Legend and Common closed the event with a performance of their Oscar-nominated hit single, "Glory." Walking out I bumped into actress Tika Sumpter, who summed up the event as one big hug. "There's a sisterhood here," she said. "If you walked in low on gas, there's no doubt you're walking out feeling full." My sentiments exactly.