BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — When Niecy Nash accepted the Essence Black Women in Hollywood Vanguard Award on Thursday, she planned ahead and brought a tissue with her onstage that was ultimately used to dab her eyes and nose.
But there was something “When They See Us” actress didn’t anticipate: A near wardrobe malfunction.
“I just want to be transparent right now. I was so happy to be up here and have this day, and then my peace was so disturbed: My belt broke, my sticky bra is not sticky no more, something happened to my shoe,” she told an engaged room of Hollywood elite that included presenters Kerry Washington, Issa Rae and Ava DuVernay. “I’m just going to say, if this whole dress falls apart, you’re welcome.”
Nash’s one-armed peach gown did stay up for the duration of her 12-minute speech, but the actress’ guard was completely down at the pre-Oscars event, where she opened up about her split from Jay Tucker.
“Being an actress is what I do, but my hope is to be of service in the world. So today, I want to serve with my truth,” Nash said, before articulating the challenges of falling in love twice (her first husband was a pastor), and finding herself even when her family disproved of her being a single mother.
“What about my happiness?” Nash wondered aloud. “The untethering from my family’s beliefs, the internet’s expectations and my marriage ending caused me so much pain. And I’m not quite sure why it’s our instinct to run from pain,” she said to applause from the crowd. “It’s a barometer for all the (bull) we allow, participate in, condone and create sometimes. Maybe if we didn’t see pain as a punishment, we could welcome it with open arms. We could sit with it, and take copious notes.”
Nash wiped her eyes as she continued, talking about her upcoming birthday and the example she sees herself setting for her children.
“I’m about to take my 50th trip around the sun. I am the most grateful because I know myself better and more fully than I ever have before,” she announced. “I let my daughters watch me work through the whole (divorce), because for them, I want them to get up every single day and choose themselves.”
Applause turned into a standing ovation for the “Claws” star.
More highlights from the Essence Women in Hollywood Awards
Another memorable moment from the luncheon was when trans actresses from “Pose,” led by Janet Mock, talked about how “deeply affirming” it was to be acknowledged by the community of high-profile African American women.
“We are, we have always been, and we will always be your sisters,” Mock said, surrounded by her tearful cast.
And there were poignant points during both “Captain Marvel” actress Lashana Lynch and Grammy-winning director Melina Matsoukas’ award acceptance speeches. Both women were honored, and recalled ways their mothers helped them succeed.
“I remember being hyper-aware of my blackness from a very young age. I recall being in ballet class and having a white teacher tell me to tuck in my backside and I proceeded to explain why mine just doesn’t go in like the other girls’,” Lynch said. “I told my mom I wanted to leave. At that young age, because of the black women that raised me, I was able to confidently leave the space that didn’t celebrate who I was, even if it meant missing out.”
Mantsoukas said to her mom, “Thank you for raising me to be proud, to know there was never a ceiling. To make waves even in low tide and to fight for our community. You give me voice. And even when it was too loud and too crass for your own taste, you never tried to silence it.”
Lynch and Mantsoukas’ mothers were in the audience, and they were in tears.
From 2019:Read about last year’s Essence luncheon