The 2023 “Sweet 16” Essence Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon: An intimate celebration of Black women as CEO of Home, Culture and Community.


By Jessica Dupree

“If you engage with her authentically and return back to her the value which she contributes the whole village does well” – Caroline Wanga

This past week, Essence Magazine hosted its annual Black Women In Hollywood Luncheon which is a celebration of Black women who are making their undeniable mark in film, television and forging forward their own definition of what it means to be a Black woman in Hollywood.

Honorees included rising star Danielle Deadwyler who played Mamie Till in the profoundly emotional and cinematic film Till, Dominique Thorne who played Riri Williams (a.k.a. Ironheart) a young genius who builds her own flying armour in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Tara Duncan (President of Onyx Collective), a curated Hulu brand that focuses in content creatives of colour underrepresented voices, Gina Prince-Bythewood (Director of The Woman King), and Sheryl Lee Ralph who plays Barbara Howard in Emmy Award-winning TV series Abbot Elementary.

As the most powerful and influential Black Women in Hollywood gathered for the brand’s  “Sweet 16” event, Heart & Soul Magazine spoke with Essence CEO Caroline Wanga about what the moment means during Oscar week, International Women’s Month all while honoring Hollywood’s finest.


So I think a couple of things. Essence Black Women in Hollywood is having our Sweet 16 right. This is our 16th year, which in life’s journey that’s a moment where you do a different kind of celebration for your birthday. What I mean by that is although this tradition has existed for 16 years, for reasons that are not bad but just true only if you came did you get something. People coveted being invited into this room. We’re honoring that intimacy but what we’re doing is leveraging how far we’ve come to give more people access to it so everybody can go back and be the best back where they came from and so what we’ll do,” said Wanga.

What we’re doing is giving more people access to this moment and so next week it will be available on video on demand so those that were not able to be with us can be with us differently and still get the fuel they need to do what they’re supposed to do. Essence over that next 50 years similar to its prior 50 years will continue to position the Black woman as CEO of home, culture, and community not CEO of Black culture, home, and community. CEO of culture, home, and community and what that means is if you engage with her authentically and return back to her the value which she contributes the whole village does well. But at the end of the day, the joy that gets created in that room is the fuel we all need every once in a while to be our best Black and we’ll have the opportunity for that to be available to more people than ever before and I couldn’t be prouder about that,” she added.


In February of 2021, after serving as interim CEO of Essence for 7 months, Wanga was officially appointed as CEO of Essence Ventures which includes Essence Communications, Afropunk, Girls United, Naturally Curly, BeautyCon and Essence Studios. The Kenyan-born Executive’s goal is to leave the baton further ahead than where she picked it up while preserving the brand for another 50 years. In a 2022 interview with Heart & Soul, Wanga opened up about carrying the torch that she held firmly in her hands.

What was difficult was me being worried about not honouring the brand enough, failing what has been a legacy that has to be preserved for the next 50 years because I wasn’t gonna take care of it the right way. So what was difficult was managing through the concern that I wouldn’t treat this crowned jewel as it deserves to be treated right? But the last 18 months for me in this role has been more exciting than difficult because of who I’m serving. We are serving the 31 million Black women that call this place home, we are serving the communities that they influence – CEO’s of culture, CEO’s of community and we’re serving broader society because Black women run the world and so therefore there couldn’t be a bigger honour than being able to sit at the helm of something so precious, to be trusted with it, and to do what I’m obligated to do with it in the time that I have. And my goal is to leave the baton further ahead than where I picked it up.”

Without a doubt, Wanga has ushered Essence Magazine and Essence Ventures into categorical new heights. This year, the BWIH Luncheon was attended by Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, Quinta Brunson, Viola Davis, Ryan Coogler, Daniel Kaluuya, Storm Reid, Yara Shahidi, Marsai Martin, Niecy Nash-Betts, Lena Waithe, Larenz Tate, Beverly Johnson, Karrueche Tran, Teyana Taylor, Tia Mowry, Tamera Mowry-Housley, Vivica A. Fox, Yaya Decosta, Meagan Good, Amber Riley, Channing Dungey, Lisa Ann Walter, Chinonye Chukwu, Pearl Thusi, Tristan Wilds and more.

The Essence Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon is hosted annually in Los Angeles, California during Oscar week and continues to stand as the premiere, most coveted event for Black Women in Hollywood while creating an intimate space to honor and celebrate their achievements and impact on culture.