Lupita Nyongo'o

Oscar-nominated Lupita Nyong'o was among the honorees at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood luncheon. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images / February 27, 2014)

The event: The Essence Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon, presented by the Lincoln Motor Co. The honorees were Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; Academy Award-nominated actress Lupita Nyong’o of “12 Years a Slave”; Sundance Film Festival winner Ava DuVernay for directing “Middle of Nowhere”; and Stefani Saintonge, winner of the magazine’s short film competition.   

Given that 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark civil rights act of 1964, the Feb. 27 affair at the Beverly Hills Hotel also recognized prominent figures involved in the civil rights movement: actors Diahann Carroll of “Julia,” Nichelle Nichols of “Star Trek,” Clarence Williams III of “The Mod Squad,” and Denise Nicholas of “Room 222”; sports legend Jim Brown; and author/poet Maya Angelou.

The vibe: Teary eyes and heartfelt speeches and an affair that ended after 4 p.m. Many said this was their favorite of all the pre-Oscar events and guests remained rooted to their seats, except for standing ovations.

“Already my heart is so, so full,” said Danai Gurira of “The Walking Dead” after less than a half-hour into the ceremonies. “Last year I wept all my makeup off.”

The formalities: A galaxy of stars delivered introductions, among them Gurira, Oprah Winfrey, Sidney Poitier, Kerry Washington, Alfre Woodard, David Oyelowo, Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee, while an audience of famous faces looked on. Some of those faces included Angela Bassett, Naomie Harris, Gayle King, Garcelle Beauvais, Chaka Khan, Brandy Norwood, Laila Ali, Holly Robinson Peete, Niecy Nash, Jessica Oyelowo, Common, Michael Ealy, Regina King, Margaret Avery, Lynn Whitfield, Sharon Leal, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Yvette Nicole Brown, Tracee Ellis Ross, Shaun Robinson, producer Debra Martin Chase, noted casting director Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd and ABC Entertainment’s Channing Dungey.

Quotes of note: Nyong’o spoke of a time she felt “unbeautiful,” saying, “I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned … and every day I experienced the same disappointment of being just as dark as I was the day before.”

Nyong’o said her self-image didn’t change until the world embraced supermodel Alek Wek. “Even Oprah called her beautiful and that made it a fact.”

Ellen Olivier is founder of Society News LA.

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