oprah-winfrey-ava-duvernay*Oscars week is heating up, with preparations in Hollywood underway at the Dolby Theater for the show to air live this Sunday (Feb. 22). But the hoopla surrounding this years’ ceremony has tongues of color wagging with disapproval. Many in the black community feel The Academy (AMPAS) has taken leaps backwards this year in terms of diversity, despite the organization being helmed by a black woman, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, as its president.

In actuality, cries of “whitewashing” and minority exclusion are a huge part of the organization’s historic narrative, but a turning point was seemingly reached in 2001. That year – astonishingly – Denzel Washington and Halle Berry both took home the top awards, Best Actor and Actress in a Leading Role, which had long seemed out of reach.  After that historic year, a steady stream of minority entertainers received nominations or wins  – including a jaw-dropping Best Original Song win in 2005 by rap group Three 6 Mafia (“It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from Hustle and Flow). Not that there weren’t nominations and even wins before then, but the strides made in the concentrated period from ’01 thru ’14 created what some would call a false sense of assurance that the Academy was finally committed to playing fair – until this year.

When the list of nominees for the 2015 ceremony was released, black talking heads’ cries of systemic exclusion were again ignited. The list was a virtual whiteout, including the perceived “snubbing” of the creative forces behind “low-hanging-fruit” film, Selma. The Oprah Winfrey-supported and acted movie managed to eke out Best Picture and Best Song (“Glory” by John Legend and Common) nominations, but was shut out in every other category. The buzz generated from the usually predictive Golden Globes indicated that – movie Annie aside – at least a Best Director nomination was in view for first time black female director, Ava DuVernay; but no such honor was given.  It felt to many like AMPAS, comprised of mostly older white males, had returned to its old ways.

But alas … despite how the Oscar nominations shaped up this year or before, there are organizations that consistently make it a point to recognize and honor the contributions of blacks in the film industry (as well as other areas of entertainment).

Essence Magazine, fueled entirely by celebrating black women, and Lincoln Motor Company are two such companies that demonstrate their commitment to shining the spotlight on black achievement. As one example, these longstanding organizations join forces each year (since ’07) to host the Essence Black Women  in Hollywood Luncheon (BWIM) during the week leading up to the Oscars. The event honors an outstanding group of black women who have made noteworthy impact each year leading up to the luncheon. The illustrious list of honorees from previous years includes industry luminaries such as Oprah Winfrey; Halle Berry; Diahann Carroll; Kerry Washington; Taraji P. Henson; Pam Grier; Nichelle Nichols; Gabrielle Union; Lupita Nyong’o; Ava DuVernay; ironically, AMPAS President, Boone Isaacs and many more.

From a black perspective, it seems that BWIH “is the new Oscars” with the unparalleled caliber of the event and the star power it boasts.  And in keeping with that theme, this 8th annual installment of the luncheon will honor the cast of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black as well as actress/director Regina King; actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw and costume designer Ruth E. Carter.  Former honorees Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay will be among the presenters.

BWIH is the hottest ticket in town and on-site access is limited, but fans can gain exclusive digital access to the luncheon by visiting Essence.com to check out exciting luncheon highlights, some of the happenings from behind the scenes and live streaming of interviews with the stars from the red-carpet. Access begins at 11:00 a.m. PST/2:00 p.m. EST and re-air at 6 p.m. PST/9 p.m. EST.