Quvenzhane Wallis was among those honoured at Essence magazine's sixth annual Black Women in Hollywood awards luncheon.
The nine-year-old Beasts Of The Southern Wild star - the youngest best actress nominee in Oscar history - had to stand on a step so she could speak at the podium at the event.
Quvenzhane thanked God, Beasts director Behn Zeitlin and "my baby sitter that was on set".
Other stars honoured included Oprah Winfrey, who was teary-eyed as she took the stage after being introduced by the graduating class of her namesake Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. "I am humbled by this day," she said. "There's nothing better than being honoured by your own."
Essence President Michelle Ebanks said the people honoured "are changing the very definition of power" with their presence in Hollywood.
Actress Gabrielle Union moved the audience as she accepted the Fierce&Fearless award.
Gabrielle revealed she had posed for photos in such a way to "minimise my blackness" and didn't speak out against racism in school or in Hollywood when she was younger.
"Real fearless and fierce women admit mistakes and work to correct them," she said. "We stand up and we use our voices for things other than self-promotion. We don't stand by and let racism and sexism and homophobia run rampant on our watch. Real fierce and fearless women celebrate and compliment other women and we recognise and embrace the notion that their shine in no way diminishes our light, and actually makes our light shine brighter."
Actress Naomie Harris, who plays Eve Moneypenny in Skyfall, was among those touched by Gabrielle's words.
"I'm in the place you were," Naomie said as she accepted the Shining Star award. "I feel as though I have travelled thousands of miles to actually listen to that speech, to learn, to be inspired and to be reminded of who I am."