Now in its 10th year, Alfre Woodard’s Sistahs’ Soiree takes place during the tail end of award season right before the Oscars. This year, the event, hosted by CCH Pounder and Lorraine Toussaint, honored The Hate U Give star Amandla Stenberg and Oscar-nominated If Beale Street Could Talk actress Regina King. The celebration presented by Morgan Stanley is not just a party nor is it an event to add glitz and glamour to a jam-packed award season. It’s a statement and message to the industry — particularly for black women and women of color.
“Our industry often doesn’t want us to celebrate the network we have and join forces,” Stenberg says in regards to the importance of industry events celebrating marginalized communities. “It can place people in the mentality of ‘oh I am out here on my own’.”
She adds: “But if you take the time to look up and see that there are all these women who are on a similar path and have similar intentions — that collective power manifests as joy, light and us doing what we intend to do as artists.”
Woodard started the event during award season to celebrate women of color “who have ever been nominated for an acting Oscar and those, who in a perfect world, should have been.” Each year the press is invited, but there is a moment when practically everyone leaves and the celebrants have a private conversation where, as Pounder says, “we get to speak our minds without any consequences.”
Pounder and Toussaint were called in last minute to host the intimate event at the Beverly Wilshire after Woodard was unable to make it because of scheduling conflicts. Even so, the show went on, but for Woodard, she didn’t feel like she needed to be there for the celebration to happen.
“One of the wonderful things that [Woodard] has always encouraged is that it’s about us — it’s not about her,” Pounder tells Deadline. “She was the great creator behind this.”
For Toussaint, she was apprehensive to host the event. She admitted that she said no when Woodard asked. “They are awfully big shoes to fill,” she laughs. “I know what it means to me and to all the ladies and she is at the center of it.
Eventually, Woodard convinced her to host. “This event needs to continue for what it stands for,” she said. “We come to celebrate each other.”
And celebrate they did. The warmth and support in the room were overwhelming as actresses from different generations hugged, smiled and laughed as they mingled with each other. It was a lovefest of sisterhood. Rosario Dawson gushed at the sight of Toussaint. She expressed enormous gratitude (she literally bowed down to Toussaint) and talked about how bonding with other actresses can be beneficial when it comes to life and work experiences.
“To take the opportunity to share the wisdom you picked up — not to just use it to benefit yourself but to actually give it and spark that joy in other human beings…that generosity and community is what is going to save the world,” said Dawson.
Tiffany Haddish shares that same sentiment saying that events like these are “important because you get to communicate with like-minded peers and to learn from each other.”
“It’s very important to be around people who are like you and have experiences that you have had and are about to have,” said Haddish.
As buzzwords of “diversity” and “inclusion” float around the industry, it is very easy to say that there has been change when it comes to having more — and equal — opportunities for women, people of color and members of other marginalized communities. Haddish says that she moving forward from the days of #OscarsSoWhite and thinks that if she’s moving forward, were’ all moving forward. “If you think we’re not moving forward, maybe you’re not taking the necessary steps to do so,” she said. “I feel like things are moving in the right direction and if some people are not, then there’s something wrong with them.”
King, who has been slaying the game in front of and behind the camera, says that there has and hasn’t been a shift when it comes to forward-thinking change in Hollywood. She pointed out that with so many streaming outlets, there are more mediums to create and we should be seeing more representation — but that may not necessarily be the case.
“The ratio to outlets to how many people of color in front of and behind the camera — I don’t know if we have made a significant shift,” the Beale Street star explained. “I mean, I’m in a film where the subject written 45 years ago and its relative right now at this moment.”
She definitely has hope and sees progress, but said, “we could to do better.”
Hoping to make the landscape better is the forthcoming movie Captain Marvel. Lashana Lynch, who stars in the movie, was also at the event. She expressed her excitement for what this film will do when it comes to female empowerment and recognizes the importance of the event and representation for women.
“Sisterhood is necessary and that is what is being represented here,” she said of the Soiree. “This is a special kind of moment that we can only do as women. Especially as black women, the message is that we continually remain together and support each other.”
She added that she is very excited to be in the first MCU film with a female lead and a female director. “I feel like I am part of where this industry is going,” she said.
The event was also attended by a who’s who list of black actresses including Chandra Wilson, Cynthia Erivo, Edwina Findley, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Kim Wayans, Loretta Divine, Octavia Spencer, Tina Lifford, Aja Naomi King, Regina Taylor, Margaret Avery, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, and Tessa Thompson.