By Brandi Fowler
Updated Feb 26, 2016 @ 12:30 pm
Credit: Earl Gibson III/Getty Images

In the midst of Oscar week, Essence’s famed ninth annual Black Women in Hollywood luncheon kicked off with a bang Thursday at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., celebrating the spirit of diversity and honoring women who have made considerable strides in the entertainment industry.

The 2016 Black Women in Hollywood awards were presented to Black-ish star Tracee Ellis Ross (Fierce & Fearless award), veteran actress turned producer-director Debbie Allen (Legend award) and entertainment attorney Nina Shaw (Lincoln Power award).

Allen, who sported a red Armani ensemble to the event, was not only honored to receive the award, but also excited to celebrate the publication's legacy. “Essence magazine has been here for decades, celebrating the power of black women and today is another big step in that direction," she told InStyle.

Other celebs we chatted with were excited about being in a room with so many women they respected and admired, and made sure to dress to the nines for the occasion. “What I love about this event is it gives us a chance to celebrate each other, to love each other, learn from each other, and inspire each other,” Zendaya, who slayed in a polka-dot Thakoon jumper, told us before the event. Inside, the beauty took a moment to pose inside Essence’s perfectly lit photo booth (below).

Credit: Michael Rowe

Meanwhile, Thandie Newton, who sported a rocker-chic Stella McCartney leather skirt and palmed a black lips–shaped Lulu Guinness clutch explained to us, “I love that it’s putting the excellence of women of color on a platform, on a stage … the fact that the community is applauding, that gives you so much strength to keep going.” The actress also sent a message with her African American Policy Forum #SayHerName American Apparel top, which featured printed names of women who were slain victims of police brutality.

Tia Mowry, who nailed a patterned BCBG look, told us, “I think what gets me excited about this event every year is being inspired by women that I look up to … I look forward to things like this because it’s great to be in one room and celebrate each other … it’s like a therapy session.”

Southside with You star Tika Sumpter opted for a “simple and easy” black Victoria Beckham dress and Jimmy Choo heels and expressed the thrill of attending the fête. “It’s just encouraging and inspiring and there’s a lot of love," she told InStyle. "It’s great to be in that room. Everybody needs a little bit of that, right?”