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Issa Rae, Spike Lee, ‘Wakanda Forever’ Cast Honored at Ebony Power 100 Gala

“Moving Black Forward” was the theme marking this year’s return of Ebony Media Group’s signature event, the Ebony Power 100. Personifying that mission in celebration of Black excellence were the special awards presented Saturday night (Oct. 29) at Milk Studios in Los Angeles. Among the honorees: Issa Rae, Spike Lee and the cast of the upcoming film sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

Prior to the gala/special award presentations, Ebony Media Group had earlier announced its 100 Power honorees encompassing business, entertainment, science and technology. Among 2022’s Black trailblazers were artists Usher, Tems and H.E.R., Emmy Award-winning writer/producer Quinta Brunson (Abbott Elementary) and TikTok influencer Khaby Lame.

Presented by Coca-Cola Zero Sugar and hosted by Emmy-nominated comedian Amber Ruffin, the evening launched with a captivating performance by Myles Frost. Introduced by singer/actor Janelle Monae, the Tony Award-winning star of Broadway’s MJ: The Musical performed a medley of Jackson songs including “P.Y.T.(Pretty Young Thing),” “This Place Hotel” and “Rock With You.”

Then the presentations got underway, beginning with the For the Culture Award, honoring the cast of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. On hand to accept the award from actor Jonathan Majors were Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke and Dominique Thorne. Also referencing director Ryan Coogler and the late Chadwick Boseman as the cast accepted the award, Wright noted, “They always said our stories wouldn’t reach … Boy, were they wrong. Thank you for breathing life into us and for your support. As always, Wakanda Forever!”

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Actress/writer/producer Rae (Rap Sh!t, Insecure) received the People’s Choice Award from actress Nia Long. “I create with us in mind,” Rae said. “To get an award from the people I have in mind is amazing. [We must] continue to value our stories; that’s the reason I’m here.”

Actor Roger Guenveur Smith, who has appeared in several of Lee’s films, presented the Icon Award to the director, noting, “He continues to transform the complexion of American filmmaking.” After thanking Smith, Lee saluted the key women in his life: his mother (“She stayed on me” growing up), grandmother (an art teacher who “put me through Morehouse, NYU grad school and helped with my first films”) and his wife (“She has made it possible for me to do everything; she held it down”).

The evening’s other honorees included activists Tamika Palmer and Wanda Cooper-Jones, the mothers of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery (Social Justice Award), McKissack & McKissack president/CEO Cheryl McKissack Daniel (Black-Owned Business Award) and Target Corp. senior VP, guest and brand experience marketing Maurice Cooper (Corporate Citizen Award).

Rapper/singer Tobe Nwigwe, accompanied by his pianist, background singers and joined later by his wife, took the stage halfway through the ceremony. Promising beforehand that “we’re going to groove a little bit, if you don’t mind,” he regaled the audience with three songs: “Catfish Blackened w/Grits,” “Hella Black” and “Fye Fye (At the Crib).”

Ebony Media Group chairwoman/CEO Eden Bridgeman Sklenar closed out the show, citing the inspirational spirit the evening “has given all of us to follow.”

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