Chris Rock, Shonda Rhimes join Essence to celebrate black women in Hollywood

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Oscar host Chris Rock, producer Reginald Hudlin and film academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs took an afternoon off from Academy Awards preparations to celebrate black women in Hollywood.

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Rock, Hudlin and Boone Isaacs were among the guests at Essence magazine's ninth annual awards luncheon Thursday at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Rock and Boone Isaacs didn't speak publicly; Hudlin took the stage to present an award to legendary entertainer Debbie Allen.

The annual Essence event celebrates the achievements of black women in entertainment. Actress Tracee Ellis Ross, entertainment attorney Nina Shaw and filmmaker Thais Francis were also recognized.

Francis thanked the magazine "for creating a platform of visibility."

"A lot of us in this audience know the importance of visibility, especially during a time, in a society, in a world, in an industry that's telling us that we're invisible," she said.

Shonda Rhimes, who introduced Allen as the new producing director of "Grey's Anatomy," called the writer-director-choreographer-performer "a force of nature."

"Debbie blows through an environment and changes the landscape forever," Rhimes said.

As Allen accepted the Legend Award, she said she felt like she was in church, preaching to her sisters.

"The only plate I'm going to pass is the plate of purpose," she said, urging the women in the audience to make real connections with each other - not just to meet up for drinks, but to work on ways of changing the world.

Shaw gave similar advice as she accepted the Power Award. The attorney for such entertainers as Laurence Fishburne, Lupita Nyong'o and Ava DuVernay was introduced by Nick Cannon and Channing Dungey, who became the first African-American to head a broadcast network when she was named president of ABC Entertainment last week.

"If you are a woman who wants to be empowered, then empower other women," Shaw said.

"Black-ish" star Ross, accompanied by her father and older sister, Rhonda, accepted the Fierce and Fearless award. Ross said she had been sick for the past week and worried she wouldn't be able to attend the luncheon.

"I got dressed in the car," she said. "I'm unclear if what I'm wearing is see-through. If it is, I'm sorry."

She said the recognition from Essence "is truly one of the proudest moments I've experienced."

Oprah Winfrey opened the program, which will air Saturday on OWN.

In a year when Hollywood's lack of inclusion has overwhelmed the Oscar race, Winfrey said, "it's a beautiful thing that we have the good sense to do this for ourselves."


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