All the Stars: The Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards Made Oscar Week Much More Beautiful

Tessa Thompson, Lena Waithe, Janelle Monáe, Tiffany Haddish, Danai Gurira and Yvonne Orji onstage during the 2018 Essence Black Women In Hollywood Oscars Luncheon on March 1, 2018, in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Photo: Rich Polk (Getty Images for Essence)

Just when we were longing for last year’s heavily melanated Oscars red carpet, the 11th Annual Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards luncheon reminds us that our next surprise win may be much sooner than we think ... and we can’t wait.


The delightful and dynamic assemblage of some of our best and brightest female stars took place at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., hosted by Insecure funny girl Yvonne Orji, who dazzled in a sequined suit. The afternoon’s honors went to actress and comedian Tiffany Haddish; actress and writer Danai Gurira; Emmy Award-winning writer, director and actress Lena Waithe; and actress and activist Tessa Thompson.

Waithe was honored with the Ford Vanguard Award and used her acceptance speech to proclaim her love for fiancee Alana Mayo, saying, “Who knew that in 2018 that would still be considered a revolutionary act?” She went on to encourage her closeted colleagues who are “still hiding” to stay true to themselves, saying in part:

[We’re] hiding because we don’t want to lose an endorsement deal. Hiding because they 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 uncomfortable. ... Being born gay, black and female is not a revolutionary act. Being proud to be a gay black female is.

Waithe’s powerful message reportedly garnered loud applause from the audience of luminaries as she added: “It’s not just my job to make art ... but to be a shining light for all the little lesbians in training. To care about them more than my bank account.”

Similarly, Gurira also spoke about understanding her increased visibility and impact on younger generations since her standout role as Dora Milaje general Okoye in Black Panther, saying:

This journey has led me many a time to the presence of young people. .... Young people who look at me to give them something to hold onto, that special nugget that just may help them get through. And, I realized that sometimes I forget what it was like to be that young, to struggle in your own skin that much. To grapple with a world system that was clearly not made for us in mind. To be unsure of your place in this realm, of how you will ever find it or how you will ever like yourself, let alone love yourself. ...

We’ve been lied to and our youth are struggling with those lies, drowning in them. Being denied their greatness because there are so many lies standing between them and their true selves. We have to repel, dispel the lies.


Even just reading their words, we were deeply inspired by the words of these phenomenal women. And while we’re admittedly experiencing a bit of #EventEnvy (we’re assuming our invite was lost in the mail). it’s always a joy to see so much black beauty and brilliance in one place.

Of course, we also peeped some definite trends on Essence’s black carpet: White was a major theme this year, along with lots of Wakandan-inspired wax prints—and an unexpected plethora of pink!


All in all, the 11th Annual Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards luncheon was a great day to celebrate black womanhood—all expressions of black womanhood. And when the prime-time special airs tonight on OWN at 10 p.m. EST, we dare you not to place bets on how many of these incredible women we might see in next year’s Oscar race.


But if you can’t wait for next year, you can join The Glow Up on our Facebook page Sunday night at 6:45 p.m. EST for our live Oscars thread. In addition to seeing how the celebs turn out tomorrow night, let’s see if director Dee Rees, Jordan Peele, Octavia Spencer or double nominee Mary J. Blige will bring home a win!

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About the author

Maiysha Kai

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. Minneapolis born, Chicago bred, New York built. Nuance is her superpower.