Emmy-winner Lena Waithe, Girls Trip breakout Tiffany Haddish, Black Panther and The Walking Dead star Danai Gurira, and Thor Ragnarok actress Tessa Thompson were honored at Essence Magazine’s annual Black Women in Hollywood Awards, which took place Thursday afternoon at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
Waithe received the first Black Women in Hollywood Ford Vanguard Award and got a shout-out from her Ready Player One director Steven Spielberg via highlight video. As a proud gay black woman and stark LGBTQ advocate, Waithe used her platform to encourage those who are still hiding to come out.
“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 during her impassioned speech. “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.”
Gurira, who was greeted on stage by her Black Panther co-star Lupita Nyong’o, underscored the power of sisterhood. “We’ve found the source of our power. The world and it’s various oppressors against those like us wanted to tell us that we as women, we don’t do well together. That we are competitive, and have cat fights, petty disagreements, and can’t get things done if we try. It tells us to compete, that there’s never enough and that we’re easily replaceable,” she said. “But we know that not to be true. A real sister will we know better. She knows that her most profound strength, her power, her magic, is often actualized, nourished, and recognized by none other than another sister.”
Aptly befitting of a demonstration of sisterhood, Gurira shared her onstage moment with Nyong’o, who celebrated a birthday the day before, leading the crowd in a happy birthday serenade.
Furthermore, a boisterous and elated Haddish had the crowd stitches sharing stories of her early days in acting as well as growing up as a foster youth. “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.”
Thompson, an early initiator in the #TimesUp movement, expressed her optimism about the future of the industry. “I think we’re living inside more than just a moment. I hope finally our voices can be heard…We know all too well that any conversation about gender equality that does not mention the intersection of race is not the truth. Any solution orchestrated to address the struggles we face as black women and women of color must be crafted by us not just with us in mind.”
Hosted by Insecure’s Yvonne Orji, the event brought together Hollywood heavyweights like Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine, Margaret Avery, and Ava DuVernay in the pre-Oscar celebration that highlights innovative and accomplished visionaries.
As it has for the past four years, the awards ceremony will air as a primetime special on OWN March 3 at 10 pm ET/PT.