Debbie Allen, Tracee Ellis Ross, And Nina Shaw Win Awards Three Days Before Oscars Ceremony In 2008, Essence magazine launched an annual awards ceremony to honor African-American women who have made great contributions to the film industry. Each year, guests at the ceremony are inspired, emotionally moved, and motivated by the success stories of honorees like Oprah Winfrey, Cicely Tyson, and Lupita Nyong’o.
The 2016 Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon, though, might have been important than the eight previous Black Women in Hollywood luncheons because of the furor in the African-American entertainment community about the fact that no African-Americans -- or other minorities -- were among the 20 nominees for the four best acting awards at the 2016 Academy Awards.
There was a lot of anxiety on Feb. 25 as people at the Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon discussed the Feb. 28 Oscars show hosted by comedian Chris Rock. That anxiety was erased thanks to a beautiful ceremony at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. that featured moving and inspirational speeches by Debbie Allen, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Nina Shaw.
Allen, Ross, and Shaw were honored for their contributions to Hollywood during the ceremony. The audience beamed with pride whenever a speaker at the ceremony listed one of the woman’s accomplishments and/or described the impact she has had in Hollywood.
“Debbie blows through an environment and changes the landscape forever,” Shonda Rhimes, the creator and executive producer of the television show “Grey’s Anatomy,” said about Allen, an actress and director on the show.
Allen 66, was honored by Essence magazine, a monthly magazine for 18-to-49-year-old African-American women that focuses on issues in the black community as well as celebrities and lifestyle issues, as the winner of the Legend Award. It’s a richly deserved honor. She has been in the business since 1976. She vaulted into prominence in 1980 while starring in the movie musical “Fame.” Since then, she has been a successful actress, choreographer, dancer, director, and producer, but helping others, including African-Americans has always been a part of who she is.
“I’ve always worked toward a purpose bigger than myself,” Allen said during her acceptance speech. “I saw the Oscars when I was a kid and wanted to see someone on there that was my complexion. You have to believe in things.”
Ross, 43, who is best known as the star of the TV comedy show “Girlfriends” and has received five NAACP Image Awards for “Girlfriends,” “Reed Between the Lines,” and “Black-ish,” was honored as the winner of Essence magazine’s Fierce and Fearless Award. Her winning that honor turned out to be ironic because she lost her voice due to illness several days before the ceremony but fiercely battled to recover just in time to be able to speak at the ceremony.
Ross, the daughter of legendary singer Diana Ross, told the audience on Feb. 25 that the awards ceremony was so important that she “had to be there.” Her acceptance speech focused on the importance of accepting yourself. “Perfect is not the goal,” she said. “We should remind ourselves in daily life to make space for selfhood.”
Shaw isn’t nearly as well known as Allen and Ross, but she has long been a power behind the scenes. An attorney, Shaw helps actors like Nick Cannon and Jamie Foxx earn lucrative contracts, was the 2013 Beverly Hills Bar Association Entertainment Attorney of the Year, and has been named as one of the “Power 100” in women’s entertainment by The Hollywood Reporter.
At the Feb. 25 Essence magazine Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon, she appropriately received the Power Award. During her acceptance speech she stressed the importance of women working together to help other women. “If you want to be a woman in power, then empower other women,” she said.
Essence magazine also announced the winner of its short film contest at the luncheon. The winner was Thais Francis, whose film “Late Expectations” is about a young woman who is hiding a deep secret.
The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) aired the Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon on Feb. 27. Winfrey was one of numerous prominent African-American women at the Feb. 25 event.