We’re pleased to announce that ESSENCE, the #1 media brand for African American women, has named Stefani Saintonge as the winner of its inaugural Essence Black Women in Hollywood Short Film Contest: Spotlight On Our Journeys.

The Black Women in Hollywood Short Film Contest tasked filmmakers to present unique, refreshing, multidimensional visions of Black women that challenge the stereotypical and often negative images that respondents in a recent ESSENCE study said don’t reflect the totality of who they are.

The contest launched last November, as aspiring filmmakers were invited to showcase their own inspiring images reflecting the variety of Black women’s lives. Contest finalists were then selected from an eclectic group of submissions by a team of ESSENCE editors. From there, ESSENCE’s Black Women in Hollywood Academy, featuring top industry tastemakers chose Saintonge as the winner.

She will be recognized in the company of A-listers during the 7th annual ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon held on February 27, 2014, where a portion of her winning film will be screened. Saintonge will receive the Black Women in Hollywood Discovery Award, and, in addition, will see her journey chronicled on

The Black Women in Hollywood Academy featured: Shonda Rhimes, creator and executive producer of hit shows “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal”; actress Regina King; husband and wife producing team Mara Brock and Salim Akil; film director and writer Gina Prince Bythewood; producer Stephanie Allain; PEOPLE movie critic Alynda Wheat; director and editor-in-chief of Shadow and Act Tambay Obenson; filmmaker Ava DuVernay; director of development for 34th Street Films Amber Rasberry; and screenwriter and director Dee Rees.

At 26, Saintonge, who hails from Queens, N.Y., is a daring young risk-taker who loves exploring provocative new stories to tell, and the opportunity to expand her repertoire from documentary to narrative. With tenacity, she made the film in just 9 months – writing it, casting an amazing pool of talent through the Casting Network on Craigslist, and throwing every dime she had into her dream. The result: “Seventh Grade,” a unique, coming-of-age story about a brave young Black girl who discovers the politics of sexuality, and in the process stands up for a friend and makes it count.

“It’s great to get validation from your own community, and ESSENCE represents that community very well. I’m really happy to be a part of it,” says Saintonge of winning the contest. ”When I was in middle school I remember… the stories that are out there for when [men] come of age, [was] about them being interested in sex. For women, they become the sex objects. So I wanted to explore what that’s like for women to deal with your body becoming a sex object. That’s why it’s really amazing.”

This year, the 7th annual Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon will honor three of the year’s most impactful and inspiring talents, both in front of the camera and behind-the-scenes, including: 2014 Academy Award nominated actress Lupita Nyong’o (Best Breakthrough Performance); Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs (Trailblazer Award) and award-winning director/writer Ava DuVernay (Visionary Award).

Award presenters include Sidney Poitier, Oprah Winfrey, Alfre Woodard, Kerry Washington, David Oyelowo, Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee and Danai Gurira.

In recognition of the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the event will also pay tribute to legendary performers who were Champions of the Civil Rights Movement: Nichelle Nichols, Jim Brown and Denise Nicholas, among others.

For more details on this year’s honorees, and to watch the live streaming of the red carpet of the Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon, visit