By SANDY COHEN
AP Entertainment Writer
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.
Nine-year-old Oscar nominee Quvenzhane Wallis toted a plush, dog-shaped purse with jeweled handles as she rubbed shoulders with Oprah Winfrey and Alfre Woodard.
The star of best-picture contender “Beasts of the Southern Wild” was among the honorees Thursday at Essence magazine’s sixth annual Black Women in Hollywood awards luncheon.
Standing on a step so she could speak at the podium, Quvenzhane thanked God, “Beasts” director Behn Zeitlin and “my baby sitter that was on set.”
Quvenzhane is the youngest best-actress nominee in Oscar history and one of only 10 African-Americans ever recognized in the category.
Winfrey was teary-eyed as she took the stage after being introduced by the graduating class of her namesake Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa.
Essence President Michelle Ebanks said the afternoon’s honorees “are changing the very definition of power” with their presence in Hollywood.
Woodard said she always recognized herself in the pages of Essence and recalled that when she and actresses C.C.H. Pounder and Loretta Devine first arrived in Hollywood, “they didn’t know what to do with (us).”
Actress Gabrielle Union moved the audience as she accepted the Fierce & Fearless award. Union said she had long pretended to be fierce and fearless but actually reveled in gossip and “took joy in people’s pain and tap-danced on their misery.” She said she posed for photos in such a way to “minimize my blackness” and didn’t speak out against racism in school or in Hollywood when she was younger.
Actress Naomie Harris, who plays Eve Moneypenny in “Skyfall,” was among those touched by Union’s words.
Writer-producer Mara Brock-Akil cried throughout her acceptance speech, saying, “All I ever wanted to do was tell our story.”
Other stars attending the luncheon at the Beverly Hills Hotel included Blair Underwood, Laila Ali, Star Jones, Jill Scott and Tracee Ellis Ross.
Grammy-winning singer Miguel performed his winning hit, “Adorn,” and rapper-actor Common did an impromptu freestyle during a brief technical difficulty, working the names of the six honorees into a quick rap.
AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/APSandy.