Essence Magazine Honors Octavia Spencer, Kerry Washington

Kim Wayans, Lee Daniels and more attend the 5th Annual Essence Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon.

Posted: 02/24/2012 09:00 AM EST
Octavia Spencer and Kerry Washington honored at Essence luncheon

Oscar weekend 2012 has officially arrived and on Thursday afternoon the 5th Annual Essence Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon kicked things off by celebrating the African-American lady trailblazers that shine on the big and small screen. This year’s honorees included Pam Grier, Paula Patton, Shonda Rhimes, Kerry Washington and Octavia Spencer.


“You have to look and view it as a big present from the man upstairs. I don’t take any of it lightly and I’m enjoying every minute of it,” says Spencer about her award season winning streak. In addition to her Essence honor, The Help star has won the Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA awards for Best Supporting Actress. But even with her shot at Academy Award winning gold this weekend, the 39-year old says she feels no pressure to be a role model for up and comers following in her footsteps. “For me, I just want to be honest and happy with myself and if that’s enough for other people great. If it’s not, you need to find somebody else.”


Actress Kerry Washington, a long time fan of Essence magazine, could a hardly believe the magazine was celebrating her nearly 15 year career in film, stage and on TV.


“I’m being honored?” she asked with a laugh. “ It’s really surreal. I don’t think I’ve really wrapped my head about it, that's why I keep joking about it. I’m just really thrilled to be born in a world where Essence Magazine exists. My mother was a subscriber and I was a little brown girl in the Bronx who knew we could be on the cover of a magazine and be anything that we wanted to be.”


Comedian and luncheon attendee Kim Wayans admitted, she always wanted to be a “drama queen” and was ecstatic that her critically acclaimed performance in Pariah finally gave her a chance to act out.


“I knew I always had it in me. It’s just a matter of getting those opportunities. You get typecast as a comedian so you can’t even get in those [audition] rooms. It’s pretty exciting. I’d love to do more drama.”  But have no fear, Wayans says. “I’m not abandoning comedy, let me get that straight. I love, love comedy and I love making people laugh. I think there something very special about that. But I want to move in and out both [acting] worlds like Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg and Barbara Streisand do."


The men at the luncheon had plenty to say about their own work behind the scenes and in front of the camera. Director Lee Daniels namedropped the all-star cast for his latest release due in November, “The Paperboy stars Nicole Kidman, John Cusack, Zac Efron, David Oyelowo and Matthew McConaghey.” But the Precious director couldn’t understand media fuss over the film's previous cast changes. Like the old news that Modern Family star Sofia Vergara is no longer apart of the movie.


“It happens like that all the time [casting changes]This is the way movies are normally made. But my life is so public,” says Daniels. “I kept reading about it and wondered, ‘Why is my s**t out there all the time?’ This is crazy!”


Actor Dennis Haysbert talked about the great men of stage and film who inspired his career. “By the age of ten I was watching any movie that had Marlon Brando, Sidney Poitier or Laurence Oliver in it.”  But the former 24 star says he’s still “always” recognized and acknowledged for his role as David Palmer, that 'other' Black President and leader of the small screen’s free world. “Even President Obama calls me Mr. President,” he laughs. “We’re all presidents. Even if you’re a past one, you’re always forever a president.”


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(Photos: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

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