Actresses Aja Naomi King and Yara Shahidi quoted James Baldwin. Insecure creator Issa Rae shared awkward memories of her first trip down a Hollywood red carpet. And singer-songwriter Janelle Monae, who makes her acting debut in two films nominated for best picture at Sunday’s Oscars, insisted black women “have a right to have our stories told.”
Essence magazine recognized these four young entertainers Thursday at its 10th anniversary Black Women in Hollywood gala, which is set to air as a special on the Oprah Winfrey Network on March 5.
“Stories written, directed, produced and acted by black women are necessary,” Common said as he and actor Kofi Siriboe opened the program at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
“This event is a reminder that we are here,” host Gabrielle Union said. “Regardless of whether or not anyone sees us.”
The need to be seen, heard and valued was a theme of the evening, as pioneering artists such as Debbie Allen and Viola Davis lauded the next generation of storytellers, who in turn thanked them for paving the way.
Allen described Rae as “an OBG: an original black girl.”
The 32-year-old writer, director and star of HBO’s Insecure listed Allen among the many black women who inspired her. Rae said the choreographer, director and producer has “been goals since I was a child, then I realized I can’t dance so I was satisfied just being a fan.”
Tracee Ellis Ross said she and Shahidi, her TV daughter on black-ish, are “kindred souls from different eras.”
‘You all have taught me by example what the role of the arts is: to disrupt, to remold and to create.’
– Yara Shahidi
Shahidi said she sometimes wonders what she’s doing “in beautiful designer clothes while the world is reeling backward.”
“What I am I doing to contribute to the world around me?” she said.
“I’m fortunate because you all have taught me by example…