Media mogul Oprah Winfrey and young Oscar-nominated actress Quvenzhane Wallis were among the honorees at Essence's Black Women in Hollywood Awards luncheon Thursday afternoon, February 21 in Beverly Hills, Calif. The TV host received Power Award, while the "Beasts of the Southern Wild" star got Breakthrough Award.
The "Oprah's Next Chapter" presenter was presented the award by David Oyelowo who plays her son in the upcoming movie "The Butler". Joined by girls from her South Africa school who referred to her as "Mom Oprah," the actor gushed, "I have to say the solidarity in the room here today is a huge example to us men."
"And I never wanted to be a mother!" said the OWN founder when it was her turn to take the stage and collect her prize. "I am humbled by this day." She additionally noted that she grew up with Essence, "What a thrill and a delight to see yourself reflected on the pages when you are a young, growing woman. ... Essence was my bible."
She remembered that Essence was the first national magazine who offered her to appear on the cover. "When it came out, it said I was a self-made millionaire and it said how much money I was going to make that year and I said, 'Whoa'," she recalled, before adding that it "came true." She went on, "There's nothing better than being honored by your own."
Revisiting her days as a talk show host, she said, "At the end of every interview, the person always in some way said, 'Was that OK? Was that all right?' What I learned over the years is that really is what we're all looking for -- is to know that we are seen, we are heard, that what we say means something" and "everybody wants to know that they matter."
"I'm grateful that you have seen me and you have heard me and that what I have said has mattered," she concluded.
Wallis, who at 9 years old becomes the youngest Best Actress nominee in Oscar history, thanked god, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" director Behn Zeitlin, family and friends including "my baby sitter that was on set." The young star left early that night after collecting her trophy.
Gabrielle Union delivered a moving speech when she accepted Fierce and Fearless Award. She opened up about her past tendency to fit in instead of standing out. "I have been pretending to be fierce and fearless for a very long time. I was a victim, masquerading as a survivor. I stayed when I should have run. I was quiet when I should have spoken up and I turned a blind eye to injustice instead of having the courage to stand up for what's right," she said.
She used to carry herself in a way that could "minimize my blackness," adding, "I used to revel in gossip and rumors and I lived for the negativity inflicted on my sister actresses or anyone whose shine." Then, along the way, she learned that "real fearless and fierce women admit mistakes and work to correct them" and pretending wasn't really working for her.
"I decided I wanted more and deserved more from the inside out," she said. "Real fierce and fearless women celebrate and compliment other women and we recognize and embrace the notion that their shine in no way diminishes our light, and actually makes our light shine brighter." She also stated, "We stand up and we use our voices for things other than self-promotion. We don't stand by and let racism and sexism and homophobia run rampant on our watch."
One of the attendees moved by Gabrielle's speech was fellow honoree Naomie Harris who received Shining Star that night. "I'm in the place you were," she said on stage. "I feel as though I have traveled thousands of miles to actually listen to that speech, to learn, to be inspired and to be reminded of who I am."
Alfre Woodard accepted Vanguard Award, while showrunner/writer Mara Brock-Akil got Visionary Award. The guests included Jennifer Hudson, Kelly Rowland, Keke Palmer, Naomi Campbell and Common. The rapper delivered an impromptu rap when he presented Harris with her award because a clip showing her work failed to show on the screen. Miguel made a live performance, singing his song "Adore".