On Thursday, March 24, ESSENCE, the leading and only 100% Black-owned media, technology, and commerce company in the world, hosted their annual dedication ceremony for Black women.
The 15th anniversary of ESSENCE Black women in Hollywood Awards is Hollywood’s most highly coveted event during awards season. This coming-together recognizes the extraordinary achievements of the most inspiring Black women in the entertainment industry. ESSENCE marked this momentous occasion by highlighting “The Black Cinematic Universe”, so the women honored also make huge strides in bringing about diversity to Black stories being told.
“As a part of the next era of ESSENSE, and building on my predecessor, Michelle Ebanks, who served at the helm of this crown jewel of culture for several decades, we are committed to ensuring that the legacy to come is just as intentional and inspiration as the legacy that brought us this far,” ESSENCE CEO Caroline Wanga said in her introductory speech during the awards ceremony.
The honored luminaries included: actor/producer/director Nia Long, Oscar-nominated actress Aunjanue Ellis, actress/comedian/creator Quinta Brown, and actress Chanté Adams. Leading actor of “Snowfall,” Damson Idris, hosted the star-studded affair.
The honorees, their presenters, and the ESSENCE team dedicated this event to uplifting Black women, recognizing the vital importance they have in not only the entertainment industry, but the world. Each honored guest took time to highlight the importance of Black women and how the work they do goes far beyond them.
Aunjanue Ellis, the first women to be honored at the event, took time to make other guest recognize the beauty of darkness.
“There is this thing called dark matter that makes up 80% of the universe. People can’t see it, but they know it exist because without, the behavior of the stars, planets, and galaxies would make no sense,” she said.
Ellis then went on to describe that the work she and other Black women do in her profession is much like this dark matter. She noted, “Black pedigree is often ignored. What qualifies one to tell Black history is not black trauma and pain… working in the dark requires an incessant scream of ‘I’m here!’”
Aunjanue Ellis’ speech was able to elevate the Black women in the room through her recognition and celebration of their importance and place in Hollywood. Not only recognizing that they are present in the industry, but have been present, and that their dedication to the industry goes far beyond just them.
The famous actor, who played Oracene Williams in the Oscar-winning movie, “King Richard,” finished her speech with a dedication of her faith, stating that her God “doesn’t need a seat at the table because She built the house.” A testament of truth that led every woman in the room to cheer in applause.
Quinta Brunson, who is well known for her new show, “Abbott Elementary,” was the second woman honored during the Black Women in Hollywood Awards.
Brunson was recognized for changing the standards of comedy within the industry. She was also recognized for the fact that her work-place comedy is able to revive the genre, allowing it to hit more serious topics with humor in a way that makes people think.
During her speech, the comedian acknowledged that the ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Awards is the only event of its kind that recharges Black women. She acknowledged the place vital importance that not only Black women in the industry have had on her, but also just Black women in her world or that she’s met in passing:
“I understand that receiving this honor means that I’m a representation of all of them [black women] and I don’t take that lightly…one of the reasons I created three Black women characters on ‘Abbott Elementary’ was because I was excited to show our work dynamics, and how at the end of the day, we can still operate at our best in sisterhood, understanding, and love,” Brunson said.
Quinta Brunson went on to discuss the diversity that her characters represent within the Black female community. By acknowledging the differences of what makes each individual Black woman so great, she takes Black women out of the box of the narrow stereotypes Hollywood often puts them in.
Chanté Adams, the third honoree, is famous for her role of Roxanne Chanté in the movie, “Roxanne Roxanne.” The actress, who is the newest honoree to enter the industry, touched based on how “flowers do not grow on their own,” giving creds to her close loved ones for getting where she is today.
Adams continued with speaking to her community of Black women, proudly stating that, “If I am the flower, you all are the water. I’m so incredibly blessed that my real family and my chosen family is filled with Black women who lead with love.”
Five years after going to her first ESSENCE Award, Chanté Adams becomes the honoree. Both a privilege and joy to the actress, she thanked those before her who’ve been previously honored, saying, “By being yourself and providing representation, this Black girl got what she needed. I do what I do to honor those who have come before me and continue to carve the path for those after me, but I can’t do either of those things right If I don’t cheer on those working beside me…So let’s continue to work together.”
Nia Long, the final honoree, closed the event with more words of glorification and positivity for Black women. The wise and well-known actress tearfully thanked ESSENSE’s team for their years of support before stating that she’s “just getting started. This [her career] is phase two.”
“Your Blackness is your superpower,” Nia Long said in her speech. “When I push boundaries to ensure that I am seen and heard, it isn’t just for me, it’s for us.”
Long then went on to discuss the work she does behind the scene for her community of Black women from advocating for higher wages to making sure there’s diversity on their glam teams. She repeats the words, “It’s not just for me, it’s for us,” committing to take care of Black women and the generations of Black women who will follow her in the industry.
“Everything I do is deliberate. There are no accidents,” the actress emotionally told the other guests.
The 15th Anniversary of ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Awards was more than just a gathering of 200 women, but a celebration of the pivotal role and importance they have on an industry that does not cater to them. Through this event, both Black women in the industry as well as the ones watching the awards from their homes, were able to spend two-hours solely celebrating themselves. This was an event where any woman could take what they needed and gain a strong sense of power through the words and experiences of women just like them.
The ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Awards was sponsored by Ford, Disney’s Onyx Collective, Smartwater, and Warner Bros Television Group. The virtual experience released on Monday, March 28 and is available on ESSENCEStudios.com and ESSENCE.com