ford ladies

Vanessa Bush (Editor-In-Chief of ESSENCE Magazine), Ava DuVernay, Lupita Nyong’O, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Shawn Thompson (Multicultural Marketing Manager, Lincoln) and Michelle Ebanks (President of ESSENCE Communications).

*Oscars season is now firmly in our rear view mirror.  But the tracks this particular season left behind are remarkably different than those of previous years.

This year, at the 86th installment of the Academy Awards, there was plenty of color, both on stage and off, and for the first time, it didn’t feel forced.  Not that people of color have never been recognized by the academy, but this go ’round just seemed to feel more welcoming than previous years. There was even a black President running the show.

Back when Halle Berry and Denzel Washington both took home the top acting honors, Best Actor and Actress, or when Monique walked away with a golden statuette for her jarring role in Precious and Jennifer Hudson the following year for Dreamgirls, or even when the infamous ‘Hard for a Pimp’ Best Song contender was performed, there still seemed to be a palpable “us against them” sentiment in the air for the black audience.  Based on the near-white-out composition of the lists of nominees and invited audiences during those years, it seemed that the academy and show organizers were curiously oblivious to the long-standing perception of the exclusive “club” they had created and sustained since the award’s inception. With that, the inclusion of blacks during those years seemed more sympathetic, like the throwing of bones and scraps as opposed to equal-footing consideration; some (blacks) even debated the merits of those wins and nominations.

This year, though, a comfortably diverse telecast saw a black written and directed film, 12 Years a Slave, take  best picture – albeit with debatable pride and a touch of irony – and there were a fair share of black nominees in other categories.  As for the irony, in Slave, Solomon Northrup (portrayed by Ejoifor Chiwetel), to his relief, was rescued and restored to freedom by whites who could vouch for him as a previously freed man.  But after rejoicing for him, you couldn’t help but consider those Northrup left behind on the plantation to continue to live the long nightmare of inequality (a relatively mild term only used here for the sake of context) that he had escaped. He was delivered, but it did nothing to change the abominable institution of slavery that was still firmly in place.  And in an off way, that’s how many felt after the Oscar wins of Halle, Denzel, Monique and Jennifer, not to mention Hattie McDaniel’s and Sydney Poitier’s breakthrough wins all those years ago.

That being said, the number of nominations and subsequent wins this year, along with the inordinate number of guests of color gave this 86th ceremony a different ring.  It seems as if a corner was finally turned as it relates to merited inclusion.  But despite the obvious rise in popularity and the career boost that Academy recognition provides for those who receive it, does it really have direct impact on the perception of black film and all people of color who are instrumental in delivering them to the big screen – even with this banner year of such?  Does winning an Oscar or receiving nomination recognition really significantly impact black entertainment and culture – which art has been known to directly impact?

As it felt after watching the movie with Solomon Northrup being delivered while others were left behind in bondage, the win for 12 Years (arguably marred by it being a movie that depicts blacks as slaves), despite the also arguable leveled playing field of the 2014 Oscar season, the impact of Academy recognition will likely always be negligible due to its deeply engrained perception of “majority” leadership. And with that, there will likely always be a glaring difference between the resultant ‘come and join us’ recognition as opposed to that which is received from within our community.   No one can capture the essence of black achievement like, well … blacks, which makes events like the annual Essence Black Women in Hollywood (BWIH) event, now in its 7th year so significant.

Matching or quite possibly exceeding the excellence and prestige of events such as the NAACP, Image and Trumpet Awards, Black Girls Rock and the BET Honors, BWIH is a platform for women of color in the film industry to share the narratives of what led to their success and dream fulfillment. It’s also a forum wherein the inspiration from such stories being told can be galvanized to breed and foster the same in other dreamers.  So, while an Oscar win or nomination is great for many reasons, recognition from, specifically,  BWIH, which occurs during Oscars week in Beverly Hills, may resonate more.

Validated by the participation (this year) of ultimate examples of barrier-breaking such as Oprah Winfrey and Sidney Poitier and past amazing recipients, BWIH combats the “crabs in a barrel” theory that often dogs people of color in that the peer to peer sharing of positive energy is unmistakable and the acceptance speeches delivered make us feel like “we can” in an industry that’s been perceived as making us feel like “we can’t.”

But making events of such high caliber possible is no easy feat, because it costs … thus the money has to come from somewhere.
With that, corporate dollars are hard to come by – especially in a strained economy, so it’s not to be taken lightly when a corporation commits to lending their financial support to causes that promote the essence of who we are and the telling of stories about how we’ve overcome obstacles.  Lincoln Motor Company chose to join Essence Magazine in doing just that.  Financially backing events such as BWIH as well as other events that present the black community in its most positive light is a testament to its commitment to diversity and equality.

This year’s honorees, Actress Lupita Nyong’o, Writer/Director Ava Duvernay, and AMPAS President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, all beat compelling odds to earn the recognition they are enjoying at this stage in their careers and their stories – as a representative sample of countless others – need to be heard to inspire and provide hope to others.  BWIH provides that necessary platform.

The posh event, hosted by Lincoln’s corespondent, Bevy Smith, was attended by a host of the honorees celebrity peers, featured a technology-forward blogger bar and had on display throughout the all new Lincoln MKC for guests to view and experience.