Ahead of Oscar Sunday, with reports of award show boycotts in response to President Trump’s controversial new policies towards the transgender community, naturally, the conversation turned to politics almost immediately on Thursday evening inside Beverly Hills’ Beverly Wilshire hotel, where Essence celebrated its 10th annual Black Women in Hollywood Awards.
“In this political time, I think it’s important to seek out those that are like us and going through similar experiences so that we don’t have to feel alone,” said How to Get Away with Murder and The Birth of a Nation actress Aja Naomi King. “Events like this, nights like this, where we get to celebrate one another and hold on to each other, it reminds you that this is not the end.”
King, visibly emotional, was being honored with the Lincoln Shining Star Award at the event, which also recognized the work of actress and musician Janelle Monáe (Breakthrough Award), Insecure creator and actress Issa Rae (Vanguard Award) and Yara Shahidi (Generation Next Award), known for her role as Zoey Johnson, the teenage daughter in ABC’s Black-ish.
“I came to take a picture with you,” grinned her TV mother and recent Golden Globe winner Tracee Ellis Ross. After dashing past reporters, Ross had made her way back to the event’s red carpet to pose with the young actress. They hugged and exchanged murmurs.
“Did I have lipstick on my teeth that whole time?” Shahidi asked, addressing her publicist after the photo op. She raised her eyebrows then shrugged. “Because Tracee said I had lipstick in my teeth.” Nothing like a television-induced maternal instinct.
If she did, few had noticed. “This is really surreal!” she exclaimed of the night’s recognition before being pulled away for more photos.
But back to politics.
“Trans rights are women’s rights,” Orange Is the New Black star Laverne Cox could be heard saying further down the carpet.
Later, when asked about her boldness to speak out on transgender issues, she said, quoting Oprah: “I don’t think I’m special, I’ve just answered the call of the dream. I understand that this is way bigger than me.”
It’s important for everybody to have a voice, chimed in Insecure's Yvonne Orji. “And not just because we have someone who’s trying to keep immigrants out of the country,” she added. “It only makes stories more rich. It’s a melting pot, that’s what the world looks like, not just what America looks like. It’s important for those stories to be reflected on the big screen, small scene, in art all around.
“We have Hidden Figures, we have Moonlight, Fences,” she continued, listing off Best Picture nominations. "I saw Loving and that was really good. I don’t envy the voters.”
The event's host, Gabrielle Union, made note of last year's #OscarsSoWhite backlash. "There’s a billion of brown people and each person has a story to tell. The stories that make it to Hollywood should be reflective of the billions of people that are on this planet not just, you know, a few.”
The award ceremony, presented by The Lincoln Motor Company and set to air on OWN, also brought out Viola Davis, up for Best Supporting Actress for Fences, as well as Common, Tyrese Gibson, and Pharrell Williams, who’s up for an Oscar as a producer of Hidden Figures, the highest-grossing Best Picture nominee of the year with $140 million to date.
“It’s breaking records,” added Union before heading inside. “These are stories people want to see.”
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