Aunjanue Ellis, Nia Long and more honored at Essence’s pre-Oscars luncheon

Nia Long, Quinta Brunson, Chanté Adams and Aunjanue Ellis at theEssence Black Women in Hollywood Awards
Honorees Nia Long, from left, Quinta Brunson, Chanté Adams and Aunjanue Ellis at the 15th annual Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards luncheon Thursday at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills.
(Rich Polk/Getty Images for Essence)

Oscar nominee Aunjanue Ellis was the first to be honored Thursday at Essence’s annual Black Women in Hollywood awards and luncheon.

Ellis, up for a supporting actress statue for her portrayal of Williams family matriarch Oracene Price in the best picture contender “King Richard,” was introduced to the stage by her co-star (and fellow nominee) Will Smith.

“The central word that describes Aunjanue Ellis is ‘integrity,’” said Smith, who grew teary for a moment during his remarks. “She don’t care about money, she don’t care about ‘making our day’ on set, she cares about people. She cares about treating people right. She does not play injustice, she does not play unfairness, she does not play brutality — verbal or otherwise. And at the core of Aunjanue is a fierce, noble integrity. And what is beautiful about being friends with Aunjanue is she demands it of you in the most loving way.”


Ellis, who wore a red suit with the word “Queer” bedazzled in rhinestones on the sleeve, opened her speech talking about dark matter. “It makes up 80% of the entire universe. It’s called dark matter because people can’t see it but people know that it exists because without it, the behavior of the stars, the planets and the galaxies would make no sense.

‘King Richard’ actor Aunjanue Ellis discusses her performance as Oracene Price, mother of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams. The first-time Oscar nominee shares why she fought for the role and for more screen time for her overlooked character.

Feb. 22, 2022

“Much of my 27-year professional life has been in the dark,” she added. “Work that no one saw, work that no one wanted to see or should see. Or noble work that was not valued by white institutions. And yet I did it anyway in the dark... This moment of shine, of luminosity, is going to pass. My next job is not going to be with Will Smith. It may not be loved and the next one after that may not be loved but I will continue to work in the dark anyway.”

Hosted by Damson Idris, the awards ceremony was held at the Beverly Wilshire hotel and was attended by Black Hollywood luminaries including Lashana Lynch, Serena Williams, Lena Waithe, Storm Reid, Niecy Nash, Marsai Martin, Janelle James, Meagan Good, Teyana Taylor, Natasha Rothwell, Robin Thede and Oscar-winning costume designer Ruth Carter. The event, which followed the theme of the Black cinematic universe, concluded with a cover of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Tank.

Donald Glover presented an award to “Abbott Elementary” creator Quinta Brunson, whom he first met while she was a production assistant on one of his music videos. “As soon as we met, we immediately locked eyes and argued,” he said. “I think it was about music. What I was learning in that moment was Quinta’s passion. She’s able to put her heart into things but make it look very effortless.”

“I love how you dressed in your very best leisure wear for this event,” Brunson quipped. “I really appreciate it. It wouldn’t be you if you didn’t and I love you. I just want to take a moment and thank you for everything you’ve done for me. This is a person that told me if I needed to, I could come sleep on his couch. And I’ve been very broke here. Very, very poor. And that kind of stuff means a lot in this industry, so thank you.”


Producer Mimi Valdes presented the Ford Vanguard award to Chanté Adams, whom she worked with on Adams’ film debut, “Roxanne Roxanne.”

“Y’all know how difficult Hollywood often is when it comes to us,” said Valdes. “It’s still so hard to get our projects greenlit and there’s not enough juicy roles for young Black girls. That’s why our community is so vital for a young actress. I wanted the first event she ever attended to be the Essence Black Women in Hollywood. Chanté needed to feel the love that lights up this room so in 2017, I called [Essence deputy editor] Cori Murray and I begged for a plus one. I told her I promise you, Chanté is going to be one of our greats and I guarantee you’ll be honoring her in the future. Well five years later, that day is here.”

“Essence Black Women in Hollywood is a safe house, a family reunion, a support group and a fashion show all rolled into one,” said Adams. “And I’m so, so happy that I got to experience something so meaningful at the beginning of my career.”

Larenz Tate introduced his “Love Jones” co-star Nia Long and sent the crowd into rapturous applause when he performed an excerpt from the iconic poem “Brother to the Night (A Blues for Nina): Darius’ Poem” he wrote for the film.

“Have you ever met someone that made you feel like you knew them your whole life but also in another life?” he said. “That odd feeling of déjà vu, like you shared the same space with them but in a different time. Your spirits are so kindred and you’re so connected that there’s this genuine symbolic thread of familiarity. Well, that’s what it was like for me working with queen Nia Long on the cinematic treasure ‘Love Jones.’”

“I love you, Larenz Tate,” Long said. “There is no one that I’d rather make cinematic history with than you. Fifteen years later and everyone is still talking about that iconic kiss in the rain. So cheers to fire alarms. That’s an inside joke.”

The Black Women in Hollywood Awards will air Monday at 4 p.m. Pacific on Essence’s website.