In the midst of the Hollywood awards season, the Essence Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon is a welcome departure from the scripted formalities of awards speeches. Everyone already knows who is being honored, so there’s no pressure, and the guests are just happy to be there to support their peers and idols. Held Thursday over a long lunch in the elegant Beverly Hills Hotel, the 2013 honorees were: Oprah Winfrey, Alfre Woodard, Mara Brock Akil (Girlfriends), Gabrielle Union, Naomie Harris (Skyfall), and Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild).
The crowded red carpet had the feel of a happy high school reunion — with Naomi Campbell, Blair Underwood, Ava DuVernay, and Kelly Rowland. But the excitement about Oprah kept everyone anchored and thrilled. “People respond to truth. She owns her body, she owns her truth,” said Tamera Mowry-Housley. David Oyelowo (Lincoln, Middle of Nowhere) told EW, “Oprah means the world to me.” Having just come off of filming The Butler with Winfrey, he added: “She’s become a great friend and a great mentor. She’s just a wonderful, wonderful human being. It’s a real privilege to be here.”