By Edwin Buggage
Essence Fest Breaks Record
In the many years of covering the Essence Fest from its inception until now; it is always so amazing to see so many beautiful Black people in what has become the premiere celebration of Black excellence in America.
This year has been a banner year for Essence, in that it is now independently owned and controlled due to the recent acquisition of Essence by Sundial Brands owner Richlieu Denis. Known for Shea Moisture and other beauty brands that target women of color.
In New Orleans and in the spirit of the City electing its first Female Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the rising of women’s voices in the MeToo Movement, this year’s festival had a spirit of empowerment that reminded me of the days when former longtime Editor Susan Taylor and Founder Ed Lewis led the Essence brand, showcasing the best of Black women.
Further, the phenomenal success of last year’s hit film Girls Trip, which took in over 140 million dollars at the Box Office globally made the festival feel fresh, new and vibrant.
When it was all said and done, it was a record setting year for the Essence Fest this year with an estimated 510,000 people coming into the City of New Orleans.
Girls Trip Effect
One of the reasons for this growing number of people was last year’s smash hit film Girl’s Trip. It was a fun and inspirational journey of four women coming down to New Orleans for the Essence Music Festival that resonated with women not just in America, but across the globe.
This year, unlike in years past there were women I spoke with while walking through the fest that were from the U.K., the Caribbean as well as from Nigeria, who said they became aware of the fest because of the film and wanted to experience it for themselves.
It was not only evident at the Convention Center, but inside the Superdome or the streets anywhere in New Orleans; there were groups of women wearing matching Girl’s Trip’s T-Shirts in the spirit of sisterhood.
It was a weekend of celebrating the splendor, beauty and majestic essence of Black women.
Deborah Ayinde and Demi Grace
I had the unique opportunity to speak with two amazing women who embody the spirit of ebony beauty, displaying a level of other worldly magnificence that is both inner and outer.
Deborah Ayinde, who played the laughable and lovable villain Simone in Girl’s Trip whose skin is luminous and golden brown as she is wearing a peach colored dress and large hoop earrings as her hair is curly and bouncy balancing her beautiful oval face. By her side was Demi Grace, her sister who is dynamic in her own right as an internationally acclaimed model and singer. She is the first woman with dreadlocks to be part of a major hair product campaign. She is looking chic and sexy wearing a sheer silver dress that contrast perfectly against her dark chocolate skin as her hair is in a high dreadlock bun displaying her feline like face.
These two dynamic sisters are beautiful, intelligent and elegant. Ayinde, speaks of the impact of Girl’s Trip on women across the globe. “I was honored to be part of this project and how it has impacted women’s lives. Oftentimes, I have women approach me and say this is our story or this made me think of myself differently.”
While Girl’s Trip is her first major film role, she has been on the small screen, most notably on Marvel’s Luke Cage which stars Girls Trip co-star Mike Colter. With appearances on several other shows including, BET’s the Game and Starz’s Survivor’s Remorse; she’s also been on the Emmy nominated show drama the Affair on Showtime.
While her career on both the large and small screen is taking off she is passionate about working behind the scenes. Obviously, a talented actress she is interested in writing and directing. While attending Howard University, she he won the Paul Robeson Best Actress Award for a short film she wrote, produced and performed.
Her star continues to rise she says, she is excited about what is going on in Black Hollywood and how films like Girls Trip are making studios see there are audiences for these types of films. She also says that it is time that more of these types of diverse stories are told on the big and small screen to showcase black images especially about Black women.
International Beauty and the Making of History
Demi Grace is a singer, songwriter and model. She has become an internationally renowned, sharing the stage with Beyoncé, in addition to making history with Procter and Gamble’s Hair Care Brand, Pantene, a collection called Gold Series that provide strength and moisture for all hair types ranging from relaxed to natural. Besides this groundbreaking feat she is also featured in a Pantene commercial with Jill Hervey (Lion Babe).
She also has a burgeoning music career where she is a diasporic diva traveling the globe and gaining legions of fans along the way. Her music is also featured on an international commercial for Dark and Lovely in addition to being placed in television programs.
Beauty Comes in All Shades
There was a time when many of the perception of Black Beauty did not display the entire range of Black women. Today as Blacks have more control over their images this is changing. Demi is used to breaking barriers, starting their lives in London then moving to the Bay area in California with her and her sisters often times being the only darker skinned Blacks. They were told they were beautiful and exude a level of confidence and grace that they are now passing on influencing women not just in the U.S. but worldwide. “A lot of people do not think of Black outside the U.S. and the issues they face. But some of them are the same as it relates to beauty and to have myself, my sister and others to become positive influences and showing that all Black women are beautiful is a good thing that they can have positives images of themselves in magazines, commercials and in music.
To illustrate this phenomenon there is the video for Pantene Gold Series showing different women of different ages with different textures of hair in an attempt to celebrate the tradition, diversity and beauty of Black hair. The Gold Series was co-created by Black PhD scientists along with over 40 hairstylists and world-renowned dermatologist and provides strength and moisture for women of all hair types relaxed or natural.
Black Girl Magic
With the acquisition of Essence back in Black Hands and the success of films such as Girls Trip and other phenomenal feats that show Blacks controlling their own destiny across the globe at their best this is good for the overall trajectory of Blacks in the 21st Century.
Not since the 1960’s and 70’s when people said Black is Beautiful have we seen the manifestation of it in today. As Black people and especially Black women are embracing their beauty, whether it is in their hair, their curves and just being excellent both inner and outer.
During this weekend it was a wonderful time in New Orleans witnessing real life Girls Trip and Black Girl Magic with Black women affirming one another defying stereotypes, displaying the essence of beauty, grace, style, sexiness and sisterhood. Being the living embodiment of the title of the poem by our poet laureate Maya Angelou… Phenomenal Woman, but in this case, I’ll call it Phenomenal, Immaculate, Resilient, Incredible, Amazing, Beautiful Black Women.