During a “From Revolution to Evolution” themed Convention & Career Fair, a CEO boldly and unabashedly acknowledged a previous controversy surrounding an annual festival.
“We are going to continue to diversify the talent in the Superdome to represent a spectrum—nobody is getting kicked out,” said the cultural architect.
The National Association of Black Journalists took over Birmingham, Alabama this weekend and BOSSIP took part in the Black excellence bristling in The Magic City. Amid plenaries, and panels with industry leaders, influencers, and standouts in journalism, music, government, and technology, OWN hosted a special conversation centered around its Time of Essence documentary.
OWN Premiering Time Of Essence Documentary Friday, August 18
The highly anticipated five-part one-hour series debuts on Friday, August 18 at 9 pm ET/PT and tells the story of Essence magazine’s “trailblazing that reaches a global community of over 20 million Black women and has revealed some of the most captivating and influential covers of the past half-century.”
OWN previously revealed the names of the thought leaders, celebrities, and culture-defining influencers who will be featured in the series via a press release. The esteemed group includes Golden Globe® winning actress Taraji P. Henson, Gabrielle Union-Wade, Sunny Hostin, and producer and former president of Motown Productions Suzanne de Passe.
Previously announced trailblazers featured in the series include fashion model and icon Beverly Johnson, Johnson’s daughter Anansa Sims, Oscar® winning actresses Halle Berry and Whoopi Goldberg, Emmy® winning actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, Regina Hall, and Taye Diggs. Iconic Essence Magazine editor Mikki Taylor and long-time Editor and Chief Susan L. Taylor are also prominently highlighted in the series.
A highlight of the doc is a portion dedicated to singer and actress Vanessa Williams after what could have been a fall from grace after the first Black woman to receive the Miss America title resigned amid a nude photo scandal. The doc recounts Essence magazine embracing Williams amid backlash from America’s majority and Essence Venture’s current President and CEO Caroline Wanga gives the icon her flowers for gracefully enduring the fallout.
Speaking of Wanga, she was also on-hand at the NABJ conference at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex for “Clips and Conversations” centered around Time Of Essence.
Hit the flip to read up on what went down when she hit the NABJ stage.
OWN Hosts Time Of Essence “Clips and Conversations” At The 2023 NABJ Conference
Hosted by CNN’s very own Sara Sidner, the sitdown featured the Essence boss alongside OWN’s Director of Programming, Kai Bowe.
The ladies had a spirited discussion about not just the documentary but Essence’s 50-year legacy that’s so impactful that Time of Essence noted that by a Black woman’s bedside is often a copy of the publication alongside her bible. That sentiment was obviously felt by attendees who screened a portion of the doc as some of them shed tears and recounted the mag’s most historic moments.
Wanga also spoke openly about previous controversies that surrounded Essence including its inclusion of celebs like Lori Harvey and Megan Thee Stallion who some critics dubbed “non-Essence women.”
That topic resurfaced again when a conference attendee brought up some recent headlines surrounding the 2023 Essence Festival. As previously reported critics including singer India Arie were none too pleased to see a clip of Megan Thee Stallion enlisting her hotties for an onstage twerk session while a supportive Janelle Monaé clapped her hands in encouragement.
According to Arie, it lacked “discretion and discernment” and didn’t show Black women in a respectful light.
Essence Fest’s official Instagram page offered a classy response to detractors in TheShadeRoom’s comment section and noted that it celebrates the “FULL culture and perspective of what is to be BLACK.”
“We welcome all of the conversation,” wrote @EssenceFest. “We welcome all sides of blackness to be celebrated and enjoyed. You decide what you need from Festival and we offer it. Everyone isn’t going to be happy and we know it. That’s okay. Inclusion of everyone doesn’t mean exclusion from what you like.”
The social media handle responded a bit more cheekily (pun very much intended) on its page with a video of Megan Thee Stallion in all her glory.
“It must be hard to be the top pick and topic of conversation and think pieces, but somebodies got to do it! In the words of our headliner: “I like to show out for them haters talkin’ bad about me / Tryin’ hard to find a flaw, but you still watchin’.
P.S. Catch it and throw it back. Any further questions?”
On Sunday, Caroline Wanga had a similar response about Essence making it a point to include the full spectrum of Black.
“Nobody is excluded,” said Wanga.
“I brought Afropunk to Festival because there are Black folks who have been made to feel on the margin by Black communities because their interests aren’t considered Black,” said Wanga at NABJ.
“I brought Beautycon to Festival because we need to take back the definition of beauty, and put it in our hands and make brands follow so we stop having this quiet crisis in health where people are pursuing an unattainable picture of beauty and when they can’t get it, they kill themselves.”
The boss who openly admits that she has a particular passion for “constructing, deconstructing, and reconstructing organizational culture” continued,
“We are going to continue to diversify the talent in the Superdome to represent a spectrum. Nobody is getting kicked out. It ain’t just yours, it is ours. And ours has five generations. Ours has the texture and beauty that the white community has pilfered for years and how dope stuff we do is.
So why wouldn’t we put it in our own Festival and own the full spectrum of who we are? What you do have is the power to choose if you want to play.”
While also acknowledging that Essence Festival may not have a Hip-Hop set every year, Wanga continued to stand firm and said that she would not apologize for its ongoing inclusivity work.
“Essence Festival, in essence, is not owned by anybody. It’s owned by everybody, and they deserve to be able to see themselves in it,” said Wanga noting that there are “too many wounds tied to an inappropriate governance of what’s Black enough.”
“And you are entitled to your opinion. I will not tell you how to feel about that. What I won’t do is have anybody kill themselves because they didn’t feel like they were accepted at Festival. And so opinions will exist. When you watch the documentary, you’ll understand some of the work we need to do to understand that we need to include the full spectrum. We need to create a multi-generational model that has room for everybody. “
And that’s the bottom line.
You can catch more wise words from Wanga and other stars when OWN’s Time of Essence documentary premieres Friday, August 18 at 9 pm ET/PT.
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