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Fearless women rule at Black Women in Hollywood Awards luncheon

Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Regina King, cast of 'Orange is the New Black' among honorees

The event: At Thursday’s Black Women in Hollywood Awards luncheon, Essence Magazine honored actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw of “Belle” and “Beyond the Lights"; actress-director Regina King of “Ray,” “Southland” and “Jerry Maguire"; Oscar-nominated costume designer Ruth Carter; newcomer Iman Milner; and cast members of “Orange Is the New Black:” Adrienne Moore, Danielle Brooks, Laverne Cox, Lorraine Toussaint, Samira Wiley, Uzo Aduba and Vicky Jeudy.

The scene: Standing ovations, shouts of encouragement from the audience and emotional acceptance speeches set the day’s tone. “I was already crying at my seat,” said King. “I told my sister I would keep it together.... I lied.”

The ceremonies: Star power radiated from the program’s first moments as Oprah Winfrey, Carmen Ejogo of “Selma” and Aja Naomi King of “How to Get Away With Murder” ascended the stage at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel to pay tribute to Maya Angelou, who died in May, by reading a poem she wrote for Winfrey’s 50th birthday.

“We lost a warrior woman last year,” said Winfrey. “She was bodacious and kind and strong and powerful. She was my mother, my sister my friend.… I can’t tell you what it’s like to lose a rock, a wisdom source, but I can tell you that the spirit of her abides with me every day.”

John Legend was joined by Common to perform "Glory," their Oscar-nominated song from "Selma."

The crowd: There to present the awards were “Selma” star David Oyelowo, “Selma” director Ava DuVernay, Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o of “12 Years a Slave,” writer-producer Mara Brock Akil, writer-director Gina Prince Bythewood, Shawn Thompson of Lincoln, the luncheon’s presenting sponsor; and Essence editor in chief Vanessa De Luca and President Michelle Ebanks.

The audience represented both sides of the camera and included actors Alfre Woodard, Tracee Ellis Ross, Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon, Holly Robinson Peete, Tichina Arnold, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Sharon Leal and Tia Mowry-Hardrict; TV personalities Shaun Robinson and Niecy Nash; “Grey’s Anatomy” creator Shonda Rhimes; model Chanel Iman; songwriter Kelly Rowland; inspirational speaker Iyanla Vanzant; “Think Like a Man” producer Will Packer; “Princess Diaries” producer Debra Martin Chase; and author and Essence co-founder Edward Lewis.

Quotes of note: King and Mbatha-Raw spoke of overcoming fear, King saying of her Fierce & Fearless Award: “We all experience fear. We all do, but courage is moving fiercely through that fear.”

Mbatha-Raw, the Breakthrough of the Year award recipient, said a mugging taught her to be fearless. “I had this gun pointing at my third eye and everything sort of went into slow motion and I suddenly felt like this is it. This is going to be the end. This is the end of my life,” she remembered thinking before she ran as fast as she could, realizing “If I don’t leap and be fearless, it’s the end.” That courage, she said, extended to issues with her identity, “to explore both sides of being black and white at the same time,” concluding, “All that is to say that our fears can sometimes be our greatest liberators if we stand up and face them.”

Also of note: Highlights from the red carpet, luncheon and backstage interviews are to air on OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, in a television special hosted by Tracey Edmonds of “Extra” and Shemar Moore of “Criminal Minds,” at 10 p.m. Feb. 21.

For the latest in party news, follow Ellen Olivier on Twitter @SocietyNewsLA

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