King Richard’s ‘Aunjanue Ellis and Nia Long honored at Essence luncheon
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — “When I push boundaries to make sure I’m seen and heard, it’s not just for me. It’s for us.”
The sounds of celebration, sisterhood and support rang out loud and clear at the 15th Annual Essence Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon. The awards show honored ‘King Richard’ star and Oscar nominee Aunjanue Ellis, ‘Abbott Elementary’ triple threat Quinta Brunson, ‘A Journal for Jordan’ and actress ‘Roxanne Roxanne Sang Adams and “Love Jones” and “The Best Man” star Nia Long.
As the stars mingled in the crowded ballroom of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Thursday afternoon at Black Hollywood’s hottest ticket, there was a noticeable sigh of relief and a collective smile shared by guests who were happy to to celebrate again in person after two years of a raging pandemic. and a virtual ceremony in 2021.
During a break from speeches as lunch was served at the pre-Oscars feature, the cast of Amazon Prime Video’s ‘Harlem’ chatted at their table, ‘Euphoria’ actress Storm Reid and Long shared a hug and Lena Waithe hailed Niecy Nash.
‘Snowfall’ star Damson Idris served as emcee (and apparently bartender, too, as he poured glasses of rum for attendees backstage) for the awards show, which was to be streamed on the website d’Essence on Monday (7 p.m. EDT).
Standing ovations were the norm for each winner, and we’ve rounded up the biggest highlights from inside the show:
‘She kills him’:Serena Williams and Aunjanue Ellis shine at Essence Black Women in Hollywood luncheon
Aunjanue Ellis delivers a rousing speech after ‘King Richard’ co-star Will Smith’s intro, to applause from Serena Williams
Ellis picked up her Essence trophy ahead of Sunday’s Oscars, where she’s up for Best Supporting Actress, her first Oscar nomination.
“At the heart of Aunjanue is a fierce and noble integrity,” Smith said. “And the beautiful thing about being friends with Aunjanue is that she demands it from you in the most loving way.”
Smith had tears in his eyes as he sang Ellis’s praises: “Damn, I said I wasn’t going to cry here too.”
Star of “King Richard” Aunjanue Ellis ditched her phone to avoid Oscar news. She was still nominated.
“I did it in the dark,” Ellis said of his career. “This moment of brilliance, of luminosity, all of you, will pass. My next job will not be with Will Smith, he may not be loved and the next one may not be loved, but I will continue to work in the black anyway. I have to do it because I have to fight against my certain annihilation, those who would erase me as a black American.
Serena Williams applauded Ellis from the crowd alongside a special date: her 4-year-old daughter, Olympia, sitting on her lap. Two of Ellis’ best friends shone in the audience.
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Nia Long and Larenz Tate Give Fans ‘Love Jones’ Reunion
Before Long took the stage to accept his award, his ‘Love Jones’ co-star remembered working together – and gave the audience a rendition of his ‘Brotha to the Night’ from the classic 1997 romantic drama .
“We had no idea what we were doing, but we knew what we were doing,” Long said. “There’s no one I (would) like to make movie history with but you. Everyone’s still talking about that iconic kiss in the rain.”
Long said his career, which includes culture-defining roles in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Soul Food,” and “Boyz n the Hood,” was a “deliberate move by design.”
“I fought to be heard and respected in an industry that would rather we muffled our voices for glory and played small so they could stand tall,” Long said.
Long noted that everything she does isn’t just for herself: “It’s for us.”
“Dealing with micro and macroaggressions without backing down from the comfort of others isn’t just for me. It’s for us. When I pledge to take care of myself first, I pledge to take care of you and the generation of women that will follow us,” Long said, her voice cracking with emotion.
Quinta Brunson makes Donald Glover laugh; Sang famous Adams
‘Atlanta’ creator and star Glover, shaking his shaved head, presented the award to Brunson, the creator, producer and star of ABC’s new hit comedy ‘Abbott.’
Glover recalls his first meeting with Brunson. “As soon as we met, we immediately closed our eyes — and had a fight,” Glover said with a laugh.
“This award is about something much bigger than she should have won a long time ago,” Glover said: the cultural resonance of Brunson’s viral “he’s got money” meme.
Brunson imbued her speech with the comedy and sincerity for which she is known.
“You women are amazing and taller than I expected. I thought there would be a stepladder for me,” she joked.
“Black women are such important pillars in my life, from my amazing mother and sisters to my many cousins and aunts, to my teachers at school and in dance, members of congregations growing up, friends, co-workers, sometimes just a girl who told me I was cute at a party, she’s important too,” Brunson said. “I don’t know who or where I would be without them.”
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The youngest winner of the night was Adams, 27, who starred opposite Michael B. Jordan in “A Journal for Jordan.” With an introduction from producer Mimi Valdes, Adams recalled her father’s dream of her being on the cover of Essence magazine.
“Even when I was in Vanity Fair, he said, ‘That’s cute, but my dream is for you to be on the cover of Essence.’ And with every career change that was made, I said a silent prayer that it would bring me a little closer to my father’s dream, which in turn became mine,” she said. “Well Dad, I guess we need a new dream.”
Tank closes the show with a performance
Sitting behind a keyboard, the R&B Tank singer wrapped up the event with a performance of “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”
He joked that he would be the only man at the event (“that’s why I wasn’t wearing a shirt,” he said) before getting sentimental. “You are beautiful, you are amazing, and if no one else tells you tonight, I love you.”
The moving crooner also got sentimental on the red carpet, opening up about his recent hearing loss in his right ear.
“When it started it was kind of up in the air as far as how I would be able to play and what it would be like, and just get back into that,” he said, noting his next album and the two No.1 records he’s had since his diagnosis. “It’s not (coping), it’s just using the tools I have in my toolbox.”