Spike Lee, Issa Rae and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” stars Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira were among the honorees at Ebony’s Power 100 gala held at Milk Studios in Hollywood on Saturday night, emphasizing the value of Black stories and storytellers with their remarks.
Following the world premiere of “Wakanda Forever” on Wednesday night, Hollywood’s week of Wakanda continued with the Marvel movie’s stars Wright, Nyong’o and Gurira accepting the “For the Culture” award, presented by fellow MCU star Jonathan Majors. Wright gave the remarks, flanked at the microphone by Nyong’o and Gurira, setting a powerful and poignant tone for the intimate ceremony.
“We want to thank you for breathing life into us — into our beauty, into this world of Wakanda,” Wright said. “I want to thank you for your faithful support in what was a cultural moment of impact and beauty and change. We saw ourselves in ways that we could have never imagined. We saw ourselves for the first time — beautiful, glorious, wonderful — because that’s exactly who we are.”
As the crowd clapped and cheered, Wright continued: “They always said that our stories wouldn’t reach and our stories were just so limited. Boy, were they wrong.”
Wright also spoke of the challenges of making the sequel following the loss of “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman, who died in August 2020.
“This second time was not easy. We embarked on a journey without our brother,” she said. “And it’s a journey that, on this press run, has been really hard to speak about. But as we accept this award, we give it back up to the heavens, to our brother, and we say, ‘Thank you.’”
On the red carpet, Ebony Media Group chairwoman and CEO Eden Bridgeman Sklenar explained why the “Wakanda Forever” cast made the perfect recipients for the special award, which aims to “highlight individuals or a moment that is truly showcasing the power of our people.”
“There wasn’t any doubt, given the impact that they’ve done [with the first ‘Black Panther’], and soon enough, they’re going to do it again,” Sklenar told Variety.
Directed by Ryan Coogler, the sequel to the $1.3 billion-grossing, best picture-nominated “Black Panther” hits theaters on Nov. 11.
With the theme of “Moving Black Forward,” the 2022 edition of Ebony Media Group’s annual celebration of Black excellence saluted trailblazers across industries, including entertainment and the arts, business, politics, science, technology and medicine. Presented by Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, the black-tie gala was hosted by Emmy-nominated comedian Amber Ruffin, who was also honored in the “Media Maven” category of the Power 100.
Before taking the stage, Ruffin explained the main difference between her regular gig on Peacock’s “The Amber Ruffin Show” and her role as emcee. “No one wants to hear topical comedy right now,” she told Variety. “We’re here to have a nice time; the news can ‘news-off’ — that’s me practicing not cussing today. I want to make sure people’s hearts are taken care of, so we can sit around and love each other.”
Nia Long presented the “People’s Choice” award to Issa Rae, praising the “relatability” of her work, from “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl” to HBO’s “Insecure,” which she called a “how-to for young Black creatives finding their footing and spreading their wings,” and an inductee into the “Black sisterhood sitcom Hall of Fame.”
“Rae’s glow-up since ‘Insecure’ has been nothing short of stellar… [She] is firmly focused on uplifting and celebrating her people,” Long said.
She then listed Rae’s achievements in entertainment (as executive producer of “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” “Sweet Life L.A.” and “Rap Sh!t”), business (her Hoorae media company, vegan natural hair care line Sienna Naturals) and local philanthropy, (as an investor in South L.A.-based charities and businesses).
In her speech, Rae recalled a recent meeting with a Black network executive, who paid her a “high compliment,” saying, “It’s very clear that you create with a specific audience in mind.”
The executive was spot on, Rae said, because she is focused on creating content for her family, friends and the Black community at large, in opposition to the industry’s bad habit of creating content with Black artists that’s not necessarily for Black audiences. Awards and events like the Ebony Power 100 provide affirmation and validation.
“It’s so important that we continue to value our stories and to recognize that we’re invaluable,” Rae said. “We are responsible for our success in this industry, and I just never want us to forget that.”
A couple of Rae’s “Insecure” co-stars – Jay Ellis and Kendrick Sampson — were also on hand for her big night.
“She’s the people’s champ. She represents the people. She’s here for the people,” Ellis told Variety about Rae, before presenting the Corporate Citizen Award to Target senior vice president Maurice Cooper, alongside “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Garcelle Beauvais.
“Even if you don’t know Issa and you just know her through her work and interviews, the consistent narrative that you always hear is that she does this to make sure we feel represented, and we feel seen and our stories are authentic,” Ellis explained. “Not only that, but she’s bringing a lot of people along the way with her to tell those stories and giving people opportunities and chances. If she was a wrestler, she would have a move.”
Meanwhile, Sampson presented the Social Justice Award to activists Tamika Palmer and Wanda Cooper-Jones, the mothers of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. “It’s almost like it’s my duty,” Sampson said of attending the event, noting the historical importance of Ebony magazine and its activism.
“We don’t have many Black publications today, and there are so many obstacles against Black journalists, so I want to make sure that I support,” he said. “It’s about honoring the past, being grounded in the present, and understanding, reimagining and fighting for what we have in the future.”
The evening’s program also featured “Real Housewives of Atlanta” star and entrepreneur Kandi Burruss presenting the Black-Owned Business award to McKissack & McKissack president and CEO Cheryl McKissack Daniel, plus Janelle Monáe introduced a performance from Myles Frost, the Tony Award-winning star of Broadway’s “MJ: The Musical.” Later, rapper Tobe Nwigwe brought his signature groove to the stage, accompanied by a pianist, a trio of background singers, his wife Fat and two of their children for a set that had guests swag surfing in their seats.
Lee accepted the final honor of the evening, the Icon Award, presented by his longtime collaborator Roger Guenveur Smith. He reflected on being a third generation HBCU grad and dedicated his trophy to the women in his life: his late mother, who fed his love of film; his grandmother, who put him through Morehouse College, NYU grad film school and “helped me with my first films”; and his wife, “Aftershock” director Tonya Lewis Lee.
“There are a lot of people who are responsible for me being up here — in front of the camera and back behind the camera — and I knew that if I got a chance, I’d make sure I had as many Black people in front of the camera as behind the camera, because that’s where the battle was and still is.”
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