Annual ‘Essence’ Luncheon Uplifts Black Women In Hollywood

Gugu Mbatha-Raw arrives at the 8th Annual Essence Black Women In Hollywood Luncheon held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP) The Associated Press
Gugu Mbatha-Raw arrives at the 8th Annual Essence Black Women In Hollywood Luncheon held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP) The Associated Press

Essence magazine’s annual Black Women in Hollywood luncheon is becoming one of the premier events of Oscars week, according to the honorees and attendees who gushed about the importance of the star-studded affair, held Thursday at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

“I feel so supported and so privileged and also I feel responsibility on my shoulders, but it’s wonderful because for me, I’m not African-American, I’m British. … I am both black and white at the same time, which for me has been a journey. I always thought ‘black women in Hollywood? I don’t know — do I even qualify to be here?'” actress and Breakthrough of the Year award winner Gugu Mbatha-Raw mused in front of an audience that included Oprah Winfrey, Lupita Nyong’o and Shonda Rhimes.

But, Mbatha-Raw was not allowed to wallow in her doubt for long, as someone in the crowd yelled out an emphatic “Yes!” — a reminder that within this group, she and the other honorees — actress/director Regina King (Fierce & Fearless Award), the cast of Orange is the New Black (Vanguard Award) and costume designer Ruth E. Carter (Visionary Award) — were among friends.

Selma star David Oyelowo, on hand to present Mbatha-Raw’s award, hailed the luncheon as one of his favorite awards season events, and hit on another common theme of the afternoon: the need for more diversity in Hollywood.

Oyelowo said the need for change recently hit home when his teen son assumed that his next role would be a supporting role rather than a lead.

“I explained the plot to him and he turned to me and said, ‘Oh, so Daddy, are you going to play the best friend?’ I said, ‘I just played Dr. King! The best friend?!’ ” he quipped. “The point is … images matter. The images my 13-year-old son has been seeing are speaking to him. So, I want to thank you Gugu because I have a 3-year-old daughter and images are going to affect her. You are presenting her with images that I love. Three-dimensional, layered; what it is to be both black and white at the same time.”

When the African-American cast members of Orange is the New Black went onstage to accept their award, actress Danielle Brooks spoke for the group, admitting that being accepted in Hollywood and helping to change images is a challenge for many black female stars. Brooks said that beauty, hair and weight are some of the obstacles black women in Hollywood face, but that her work on the Netflix series has helped alleviate some of that.

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SOURCE: USA Today –  Arienne Thompson

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