With “Wonder Woman” still lording over everything and everyone else at the box office, the timing could not have been more perfect for Women In Film’s 2017 Crystal + Lucy Awards, which honor femmes in filmmaking and television.
But the honorees are not restricted to women, as the organization has a long history, going back to 1977, of praising people at its annual gala who lead by example in advocating gender parity — and excellence — in their respective fields.
This year’s honorees: Elizabeth Banks, who received the Crystal Award for excellence in film; Tracee Ellis Ross, recipient of the Lucy Award for excellence in television; Zoey Deutch, presented with the Max Mara Face of the Future Award; Mira Nair, who received the BMW Dorothy Arzner Directors Award; Dan Rather, presented with the Norma Zarky Humanitarian Award by Robert Redford; and Michael Barker and Tom Bernard, the co-founders of Sony Pictures Classics, who were honored with the inaugural Women in Film Beacon Award, presented for outstanding leadership to advance gender equity with their career-long, consistent support of female filmmakers.
Despite the fine pedigrees of all of these entertainment industry professionals, it was women in politics — first-term California Sen. Kamala Harris, former FLOTUS Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton, all appearing via video — who nearly stole the show, which was ably hosted at the Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom June 13 by actor and comedian Jessica Williams. The theme, quite appropriately, was “Evolve.”
Naturally, there were a number of shout-outs to “WW” director Patty Jenkins, who was promoting the blockbuster film in New York.
“Patty turned Hollywood right side up,” said WIF President Cathy Schulman. “Her movie is living proof that commercial entertainment can be helmed by people of either gender.”
Harris, who in real life had been grilling Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier that day during Senate Intelligence Committee hearings on possible Russian involvement in last year’s presidential election campaign, received huge cheers when she appeared on large monitors. “Our issues are diverse,” she said. “The economy, climate change, national security, immigration, criminal justice system reform, workplace issues and health care — they are all women’s issues.”
In furthering a broad-reaching agenda, Women In Film is also instituting an ambassadors program called “Reframe,” made up of 50 well-respected talent and guild representatives, studio heads, agency partners and network executives. Among those called up on stage to speak about the program, whose goal is to create a formal action plan furthering gender equity, were Writers Guild of America, West President Howard Rodman, Franklin Leonard, founder of The Black List, and William Morris Endeavor partner Adriana Alberghetti.
But the evening wasn’t entirely consumed by serious subjects. Williams provided some levity with stories about her upbringing in Torrance, Calif., and going to the movies with her grandmother. Yet she noted, “All of the straight white men tales have already been done — except maybe ‘Batman.’ At least we got ‘Wonder Woman.’ But it would be great to have an all-female ‘Top Gun,’ ‘Boyz n the Hood’ and even ‘Sister Act.’ Or Whoopi Goldberg could play all the parts.”
Actress Michaela Watkins, currently starring in Hulu’s “Casual” and a former, albeit short-term “SNL” cast member (2008-9), also used humor in introducing a new PSA campaign, itself hysterical, with the tagline “This Really Happened.” In it, female crew members on a set are shown as a male director walks in and is given grief. But he is polite, respectful and essentially asks their permission to relight a scene. Then a similar setup is shown with a female director, who strides in, demands things and literally throws things around the set at the slightest provocation. It’s called “Flip the Switch,” dramatizing reverse gender roles.
But back to the politicians, whose remote appearances were not revealed in advance. Obama’s surprise video clip was to honor the Golden Globe-winning Ross. “You are hilarious,” Obama said. “You are one of the most talented actors I know, and your character on ‘black-ish,’ Bow [Rainbow Johnson], is an inspiration to folks all across this country. The work you’re doing offscreen is just as remarkable. From empowering our girls to educating people on the importance of voting, thank you. Thank you for using your voice to change so many lives. Congratulations again on this well-deserved honor. See you on the dance floor.” Ross replied, “Oh, my goodness gracious!” before feigning a mic drop. She then listed Lucille Ball, (after whom the Lucy Award is named) Carol Burnett, Lily Tomlin, the original 1970s-era “Wonder Woman” and “The Bionic Woman” as her favorites when she was growing up.
Clinton’s video appearance was a huge surprise to honoree Banks, a longtime Hillary supporter and a well-known Democratic activist. It’s a good guess that the majority of attendees in the room had supported Clinton’s presidential campaign, so she was also accorded a huge roar of approval from the crowd when her visage came on screen.
“Now I haven’t seen ‘Wonder Woman’ yet, but I’m going to, in part because it’s directed by the fabulous Patty Jenkins,” Clinton said. “But something tells me that a movie about a strong, powerful woman fighting to save the world from a massive international disaster is right up my alley.” As for Banks, she had this praise: “She is such a special person, again, on screen and off. You’re not only a creative force in front of the camera and behind it, you are a passionate advocate for women’s equality and opportunity; I can vouch for that.”
As the speeches wore on, perhaps the WGA’s Rodman best summed up WIF’s enduring mission for gender equality. “If half of us are women,” he said, alluding to half of the general population, “shouldn’t half of us be women?”