Sheryl Lee Ralph rivets with Essence Black Women in Hollywood … – USA TODAY

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — When Sheryl Lee Ralph speaks, people listen.
The ballroom at Los Angeles’ Fairmont Century Plaza hotel fell silent Thursday as Ralph took the stage to accept her award as one of Essence’s Black Women in Hollywood honorees from her “Abbott Elementary” co-star and 2022 honoree Quinta Brunson.
“Folks been saying to me all afternoon, ‘Why so late?’ This is not late. This isn’t a moment late. This is right on time,” Ralph said to a captivated audience of her peers. 
Ralph has been an icon in Hollywood for decades, but is just now getting her flowers. And though many seem to wonder why it’s taken the industry so long to notice Ralph’s talents, the actress clearly isn’t concerned with the timing. 
The 66-year-old actress and singer has been taking awards season by storm, picking up an Emmy, Critics’ Choice Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award for her role as kindergarten teacher Barbara Howard in hit ABC sitcom “Abbott Elementary.” And with each win, she’s continued to mesmerize viewers with her riveting speeches. This one was no different. 
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“How fitting it is that I get to end this awards season with all of you,” Ralph said to the crowd of Black men and women and fellow honorees: “The Woman King” director Gina Prince-Bythewood, “Till” star Danielle Deadwyler, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” breakout star Dominique Thorne and Freeform and Onyx Collective president Tara Duncan. 
The “Moesha” actress opened her acceptance speech with song, her own take on Dianne Reeves’ “Endangered Species,” belting out “I am an endangered species, but I sing no victim’s song. I am a woman – Black woman – I am an artist, and I know where my voice belongs.” 
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Among honoring the stories of Black actresses who came before her like Rosalind Cash and Virginia Capers and lauding future young Black talent, Ralph emphasized self-love and was poignant about living in her truth even if people thought of her as “too much.”
“I’m happy to be Black as I am. I love the naps and the curls in my hair. I love my big lips. I love my wide hips. I love every single thing that makes me Black, beautiful, wonderful, talented, empowering, encouraging. Everything about me being Black. I love it,” Ralph said. “I am too much for some of them. ‘She’s so loud. She’s so happy. She’s so energetic. She’s just so much.’ Yes I am. And I am not enough for some of them, but guess what. You know who I love? Me.”
Ralph’s compelling speech was just one highlight from the afternoon hosted by Boris Kodjoe. The event honoring the contributions of Black women in entertainment filled the room with words from honorees and presenters reminding folks why spaces like Essence’s Black Women in Hollywood are so needed.
Viola Davis, who was presenting Prince-Bythewood’s honor, spoke about the difficulty of being a creator, the grit and passion it takes and how much more onerous it becomes as a Black woman. 
“A lot of times people don’t think that movies driven by Black female artists will sell. A lot of people don’t want to give us a proper budget. A lot of people don’t see our talent … we have a lot of obstacles in our path and not just from our white counterparts from us too,” Davis said. 
Prince-Bythewood’s “The Woman King” was snubbed by the Academy Awards after not receiving a single nomination and in a September 2022 interview, Davis told USA TODAY she literally had to fight to get this film made.
Davis was pitched the idea for the film in 2015 by Maria Bello, one of the movie’s producers, in a speech she made presenting Davis with an award at the National Women’s History Museum in Los Angeles. The process from that moment to the final version viewers will see “looks like something that does not make this business attractive,” Davis said.
“Everything in between is not pretty. It really isn’t,” she said. “You literally have to have the spirit of an artistic warrior when you are fighting for material.”
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Even though “The Woman King” was overlooked by the Academy, the fight was worth it. Aside from being an impactful piece of work, the film was a favorite this awards season. 
When accepting her award from Davis, Prince-Bythewood cited author Chinua Achebe, who is famous for writing “Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter.”
“The beauty of ‘The Woman King’ is that for the first time, the lionesses got to write their own story,” Prince-Bythewood ended her speech. 
Contributing: Anika Reed


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