The entertainment industry’s leading ladies gathered at Fairmont Century Plaza on Wednesday for the return of The Hollywood Reporter‘s annual Women in Entertainment event, presented by Lifetime.
This year, the star-studded event — which coincided with the publication of THR’s annual Women in Entertainment Power 100 — honored Jennifer Aniston with the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award, highlighting a woman who is a pioneer in her field.
Ahead of the ceremony, A-listers mixed and mingled, with Rachel Brosnahan chatting with West Side Story star Ariana DeBose, Ted Lasso‘s Hannah Waddingham posing on the red carpet alongside Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga and Jennifer Garner, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Maria Bakalova made rounds inside the reception.
Inside the breakfast, Molly Shannon kicked off the morning, where she joked that when it came to sexism, “you have to admit that there has been some improvement this year. I mean, the one good thing you can say about the coronavirus is that it’s not sexist — which is proof that it wasn’t man-made. At no point this year did the virus ask me to stop by its hotel room to discuss a movie role.”
Shannon called for men to take on the acting roles of women: “A man can wear a bikini and wash a car; a man can hold up a card with a number on it between rounds at a boxing match; a man can jog past a camera without wearing a bra.”
Turning serious, Shannon also addressed women outside of Hollywood who are “pushing the envelope and creating new forms. … We want to support you all, sensational, fantastic, resplendent women with one-of-a-kind stories.”
THR editorial director Nekesa Mumbi Moody followed Shannon, congratulating this year’s Power 100 honorees as well as Aniston for having “excelled across television, film and production; and in addition to her many career accomplishments, she is beyond generous with her philanthropy — it’s the very true essence of this award.” She was joined onstage by THR co-publishers Beth Deutschman Rabishaw and Victoria Gold, who thanked Lifetime for donating $400,000 to the Women in Entertainment scholarship fund as well as the support of the other event sponsors.
Following the introductions, Michelle Pfeiffer took the mic to present Selma Blair with the Equity in Entertainment Award, reflecting on having met the actress 20 years ago but only really becoming close with her over Instagram in 2019. Pfeiffer called Blair’s courage in publicly fighting multiple sclerosis, which she was diagnosed with in 2018, “nothing short of heroic. And we need her kind of hero right now, not only for the MS community.”
After reading an inspirational caption from Blair’s Instagram, Pfeiffer brought her onstage, saying, “Selma wants to do more than just give a voice to those with disabilities. She wants to give them a sense of comfort. If you feel all alone facing challenges on your own, Selma is here to tell you that you’re not.”
Accepting her honor, Blair, who recently filmed her MS journey in the documentary Introducing, Selma Blair, said her story is one of many, and “everyone in this room knows the power of entertainment to create a sense of community, and it is our responsibility, those of us in this room, to do so. By creating more inclusive content, by telling stories that more authentically represent and include all of us, by being allies in our workspace, by setting the bar higher for accessibility standards, by living and working in the intersectionality of our collective human experience, we become worthy of the enormous access and influence we have.”
She called for the industry to better learn and have discussions about how to welcome the disability community to the table, and “to ensure we can even make it to the table. So seek out the other stories. Take the phone calls. Hire other disabled people in front of and behind the camera, not because it is the right thing to do, although it is, but because you and whatever project you are working on will be better for having done so.”
After thanking her friends and collaborators, including doc director Rachel Fleit, Blair closed out her speech by saying, “It is the honor of my life to stand before you today and accept this award on behalf of all the women who won’t have movies made about them but whose stories are important, whose lives are vital.”
Nikole Hannah-Jones, this year’s keynote speaker and creator of the landmark 1619 Project, then entered to applause and took a moment to speak directly to the mentee table, telling the high schoolers, “You are truly so far ahead of the game than I was when I was your age.”
The journalist also touched on her recent publishing of the 1619 Project book — an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine to reframe the country’s history by focusing on the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans — and the backlash against it, with state legislatures across the country moving to ban the book and similar texts addressing the United States’ racist history.
“These anti-history laws want to render us incapable of understanding the causes of the vast inequality that we see in our country,” Hannah-Jones told the audience. “They want to limit our society’s understanding of itself and instead indoctrinate our students into learning a history of a country that quite frankly has never existed.”
“I am just a Black girl from Waterloo, Iowa, a no-name town in a flyover state. I certainly never imagined one day I would produce a text so dangerous that it is now being banned by name in states such as Georgia, Texas and Florida,” she continued. “In truth, it is my greatest honor — the Pulitzer Prize means nothing, this is my greatest — because people only ban things they fear will unsettle their power. We cannot sit idly by and concede our power as storytellers and our power as citizens and the power that we collectively hold.”
Hannah-Jones closed out her keynote with a call to action for these unprecedented times. “We must respond in unprecedented ways. Because the arc of the universe does not, in fact, bend toward justice of its own volition,” she said. “We must bend it. I have chosen my weapon. Now you all must choose yours, if you haven’t already, and join this fight.”
Following Jones’ passionate address, Garner, Thompson, Halle Bailey and Kelsea Ballerini helped present $1 million in college scholarships to the high school girls in THR‘s Women in Entertainment Mentorship Program. “Nothing is more powerful than making education and mentorship opportunities available to anyone,” said Garner, joking as she wiped away tears that “nobody told me today was just going to be killer.”
The incoming 2022 mentorship class, comprising Los Angeles teens from underserved areas, each received a $10,000 scholarship to attend the university of their choice and a MacBook endowed by the Wasserman Foundation, which were handed out to the mentees by Ted Lasso co-stars Waddingham and Toheeb Jimoh and presented by Bailey.
Three additional four-year, full-ride scholarships were also presented: Sony’s scholarship to Loyola Marymount University, presented by Garner, went to mentee Ailani from Lawndale High School (mentor Wendy Luckenbill, head of brand communications at Fox Sports); The Chuck Lorre Family Foundation’s scholarship to Chapman University, presented by Thompson (who also joked she was “split open” by the morning’s emotions — as well as physically, when her dress tore earlier in the event), went to mentee Ashly from Kennedy High School (mentor Christine Stillings, manager of ABC Entertainment Marketing at Walt Disney Television); and Spotify’s scholarship to Chapman University, presented by Ballerini, was awarded to mentee Taya, from El Segundo High School (alongside mentor Alexis Cooper, vp human resources at A3 Artists Agency).
To close out the event, Aniston’s Morning Show co-star Steve Carell came onstage to present her with the Sherry Lansing honor, joking that “most of you will never compare favorably to Jennifer Aniston, because Jennifer Aniston is better than you are in most ways,” including her success across comedy and drama in acting, producing and directing; in being nice (“And it’s not a fake kind of nice, it’s a genuine sense of caring for others. I mean, I’m considered nice, but even I draw the line at the sound guy”) and in her longtime philanthropy.
“She’s more talented, she is nicer and she is more generous than any of us here today,” Carell declared, adding, “In all sincerity, she’s such a terrific person. She cares deeply for others, she leads by example and she makes a difference,” before giving Aniston her award.
The star was greeted by a standing ovation, as she teased Carell (Morning Show spoiler alert), “I think I can speak on behalf of all of us when I say I’m so happy you’re still alive.” She also praised Lansing — the first woman to run a studio — in accepting her namesake award, saying, “You truly paved the way for us women to have the voices and the platforms that we have today,” and recalled a lunch the two had in the Friends days.
Years later, Lansing’s question of what she imagined for her future led Aniston to a numerologist, she said, who told the actress she was a “late bloomer.”
“At first I was kind of taken aback by this label, as if I was an underachiever who hadn’t reached her full potential,” Aniston said. “But as I sat with this idea of ‘late bloomer,’ it started to grow on me. Maybe I haven’t done my best work yet — as an artist or as a human being. Maybe I am just beginning. So, I started to embrace this idea of being a ‘late bloomer,’ or of just beginning.
“And then, this beautiful award suddenly comes my way and it makes me feel like I’m halfway through this marathon and I’m getting this enormous second wind because all of you are suddenly running beside me, cheering me on with signs holding ‘Keep going!’ ‘You got this girl!’ Throwing Dixie cups of water at me. And it feels so good,” she continued.
“In getting to be a part of so many different kinds of stories, I’ve realized that what we get to do as storytellers can be so emotionally healing for people,” Aniston said. “I think stories also help us shine a light on cultural illnesses, like sexual harassment and racial discrimination and gender bias in the workplace — areas we’ve tried to address on The Morning Show. Stories also can give us a much-needed laugh after we do all that very heavy lifting — and it’s been scientifically proven laughter is good for our health, that’s actually true, so I’m glad I could be a vitamin of sorts for people out there from time to time.”
Aniston closed out her speech with another nod to Lansing, who was in the audience, saying she felt reminded “to keep pushing boundaries — in storytelling, and in the business — the way you did, Sherry, and showed us how it’s done.”
Also in attendance at the event were notable names such as Connie Britton, Alexandra Daddario, Terry Crews, Marlee Matlin, Gloria Calderon Kellett, Dawn Ostroff, Courtney Kemp, Krista Vernoff, Bruna Papandrea, Tia Mowry, Susan Rovner, Susan Kelechi Watson, Sarah Shahi, Casey Wasserman, Jennifer Morrison, Bela Bajaria, Karey Burke, Tara Duncan, Nicole Clemens, Amy Israel, David Nevins, Jana Winograde, Pamela Abdy, Pearlena Igbokwe, Sandra Stern, Paul Buccieri and Fortune Feimster. See images from the event here.
The Women in Entertainment event was sponsored by Cadillac, FIJI Water, Amazon Ads, SAG-AFTRA, eOne, Gersh and in partnership with Chapman University, Loyola Marymount University and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles. This event was held in compliance with local health and safety guidelines.