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Lashana Lynch, Melina Matsoukas, Niecy Nash and ‘Pose’ cast honored at Essence awards

Lashana Lynch, Niecy Nash, Melina Matsoukas and the cast of FX’s “Pose” were honored at Essence’s annual Black Women in Hollywood awards and luncheon.

Although greater representation is always the raison d’etre for Essence’s annual Black Women in Hollywood awards ceremony and luncheon, this year’s celebration felt especially poignant in a year where just one nominee of color is up for an acting Oscar (“Harriet” star Cynthia Erivo, who was in attendance) and in the wake of Sunday’s British Academy Film Awards with its all-white roster of acting nominees.

The 13th iteration of the Essence event, held Thursday at the Beverly Wilshire hotel and emceed by the musician Eve, honored actress Niecy Nash; “Queen & Slim” director Melina Matsoukas; the cast of FX’s “Pose,” including Hailie Sahar, Dominique Jackson, Indya Moore, Mj Rodriguez, Angelica Ross and Janet Mock; and “Captain Marvel” actress Lashana Lynch, who will become the first female Agent 007 with April’s release of the 25th James Bond film, “No Time to Die.”

In her opening remarks, Essence Chief Executive Michelle Ebanks (who also heralded the 50th anniversary of the magazine) encapsulated the enduring importance of the ceremony by saying, “We can’t count on other people to recognize us, but we can recognize each other.”

After being introduced to the stage by Alfre Woodard, Lynch paid respects to her mother, who was seated in the crowd (and received a standing ovation), and to fellow honoree Matsoukas, with whom she’d worked on the upcoming FX sci-fi series “Y: The Last Man.”

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At Diane von Furstenberg and the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures’ sixth Oscars luncheon, female nominees were celebrated, but the talk turned to continuing inequality in the film industry.

“Thank you for encouraging me to cut off all my hair for a TV show,” Lynch said to Matsoukas. “It taught me more than you’ll ever know about the power of black women’s self-love. In an industry where black women are always encouraged to add to their crown and glory to get ahead, you told me and taught me and showed me that by cropping my hair and embracing the essence of who I am ... that I could still advance. So, thank you very much.

“The true essence of humanity lies in the sacrifice of black women,” she added. “Every year, I look forward to watching the speeches of women in this room who continue to radiate so beautifully through their talent, their intelligence and their sensitivity. And every time I watch a speech and see the reactions of the women in the room, I think, ‘Bruh, we are the table.’”

Matsoukas was next, introduced by her friend and “Insecure” collaborator Issa Rae. In her speech, the director paid tribute to Rae, her mother, “Queen & Slim” writer Lena Waithe, and her frequent collaborator Beyoncé.

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“My true first foray into directing was 15 years ago with my sister, Beyoncé, who genuinely started my career,” she said. “She taught me how to work, how to dream, how to achieve and most importantly as an artist, how to control your own narrative. She took a chance on me when no one else would and entrusted me with her own art. From ‘Upgrade U’ to ‘Formation,’ we grew up together. She taught me not only how to be a revolutionary but how to be the revolution. Without her, I’m not the same filmmaker today.”

Kerry Washington took a moment to honor the late Diahann Carroll, whom she’d co-starred with in 2013’s “Peeples” and presented with at that year’s Emmy Awards.

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After listing Carroll’s accolades, which included a Golden Globe win, an Emmy nomination (the first for a black actor of any gender), an Oscar nomination and a Tony award (the first win for a black woman), Washington reflected on the actress’ accomplishments.

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“Awards are tricky business,” she said. “Her worth was not defined by those accolades. She would have been glorious without them. But I mentioned these accomplishments because she was a trailblazer and a fighter. Her presence in the upper tiers of excellence in this business makes her not just a hero, but one of our founding mothers.”

Billy Porter presented the award to his “Pose” co-stars, with co-executive producer-director-writer Janet Mock taking the opportunity to speak out on behalf of black transgender women and girls.

“Too often, black trans women and black queer and gender-nonconforming folk put their bodies on the line every day to be themselves,” she said. “Grappling with housing and joblessness and a lack of access to healthcare and education. Navigating our own people’s intolerance and willful ignorance, pushing our sisters out of homes, intolerant schools and churches and into detention facilities, foster homes, prisons and deeper into poverty. And these alarming issues remain widely unaddressed because we as a culture do not acknowledge that trans women are women, that black bodies are valuable and that black trans girls and black trans women are worthy of our protection and care.”

“The struggle for black people must include black trans and queer people, period,” Mock added. “And this award reaffirms that our stories, our lives, our experiences matter and reassures that the way that we tell it from the perspective and talents of those who’ve lived it, is most impactful.”

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The final award of the afternoon, the Ford Vanguard award, was presented to Nash by Ava DuVernay, with whom she’d collaborated on the 2019 limited series “When They See Us” and the 2014 film “Selma.” Nash took the opportunity to speak about her pending divorce from Jay Tucker and her determination to break generational curses.

“There was a huge myth that I inherited from the women in my family which is, ‘You are nothing without a man. Get one and keep one, no matter what,’” she said in a moving speech. “This long line of women that I come from had never been taught what choosing themselves looks like.

“Heavy is the head who wears the crown of change,” she continued. “I was chosen to disrupt the pattern in my family. I’m not quite sure why it’s our instinct to run from pain instead of realizing it’s a barometer for all the bull ... we allow, participate in, condone and create sometimes. And I was thinking that maybe if we didn’t see pain as a punishment, we could welcome it with open arms. We could sit with it and take copious notes.

“For me, pain is putting all things in necessary order. It will ultimately stretch you. It will grow you and it will make you better. ... You’ve got to be transparent, trust that it is so much easier to walk in your truth than it is to run toward the lie. Make a decision about what you now know. ... You’ve got to own the part you play.”


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