Hillary Atkin

A ‘State of the Union’ for Women in Entertainment

Jun 18, 2019

“The stats are crap and the glass ceiling is still hella thick.” Actress Xosha Roquemore didn’t mince many words as she hosted the 2019 Women in Film Annual Gala, which celebrates female achievements in the entertainment industry while also acting as an unofficial sort of state of the union.

Among the night’s honorees were two creators who’ve each blazed a unique trail in comedy on television, Amy Poehler and Issa Rae.

The event, formerly known as the Women in Film Crystal + Lucy Awards, was held June 12 at the Beverly Hilton. Its roots go back to 1977 when the Los Angeles organization first began honoring outstanding women in the business and raising money for its causes including educational and philanthropic programs and advocacy for equality.

Poehler has had a busy year, between directing and starring in the recent feature comedy “Wine Country” and executive producing shows including “Russian Doll” and “Broad City,” which concluded a five-season run this past March.

“Amy doesn’t sleep,” said actress Natasha Lyonne, who stars in “Russian Doll” and goes back decades with Poehler, as she presented her with the Women in Film Entrepreneur in Entertainment Award.

“Amy subverted the whole system,” Lyonne said before introducing a clip reel of some of Poehler’s greatest hits, including “Saturday Night Live” bits and scenes from “Baby Mama,” “Parks and Recreation” and “Making It.”

In her acceptance speech, Poehler read off a wide-ranging list of films and television shows directed and created by women and name-checked a list of other females she admires, which included Oprah Winfrey, Frances McDormand and Anita Hill.

“To all the mothers, all the sons, all the brothers here tonight, all my sisters in arms — thank you, thank you,” Poehler concluded. “More, more, more, more, more.”

Rae, who created, produces, writes and stars in HBO’s “Insecure,” took a different tack as she accepted the Emerging Entrepreneur Award, which was presented by Stephanie Allain.

Rae reflected on her days as a student at Stanford (she graduated in 2007), where she started creating content in her dorm room, often while listening to hip-hop, the soundtrack of her growing-up years. She adopted the rappers’ tone of being the opposite of humble, bringing laughter from the audience as she began with an admonition — “You need to bow down to me.”

Continuing her pseudo-arrogant comments designed to lampoon the fact that women are often taught not to tout their accomplishments, Rae addressed a remark to what many people accepting awards annoyingly refer to as their “team.” “I could’ve done it without you,” she said. “I deserve this — bye.”

Actress Elizabeth Debicki (“Widows,” “The Night Manager”) was honored with the Max Mara Face of the Future Award. The fashion brand has sponsored the event for 17 years now with additional support from corporate partners Delta Air Lines and Lexus.

Debicki also alluded to social conditioning women receive. “I was taught by a system that tells women that they should achieve with a kind of humility, and with a kind of silent gratitude for what we’re given,” said the actress, whose upcoming roles include the super-secret Christopher Nolan film “Tenet” and the third edition of “Guardians of the Galaxy.” “Which actually stung me a bit and made me realize how important it is for me to personally work at shirking that off.”

Cathy Schulman received the Crystal Award for Advocacy in Entertainment presented to her by Viola Davis, who lauded the Oscar-winning producer and longtime WIF president for her tenacity in championing women on-screen and off.

The two are working together on the upcoming film “The Woman King,” about an all-female military unit in 18th and 19th century Africa. “Think of it as ‘Braveheart’ with all black women and no Scottish bros,” teased Davis.

In her speech, Schulman spoke about the difference between diversity and inclusion, noting that diversity is a counting mechanism of women and people of color while inclusion encompasses the attitude that such voices — often little-heard in the past — need to have an equal representation in executive offices and writers rooms.

The gala featured a new award, WIF Members’ Choice, which was presented by actress Lake Bell to female directors who had a feature released last year — Debra Granik (“Leave No Trace”), Marielle Heller (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”), Chloe Zhao (“The Rider”), Anne Fletcher (“Dumplin'”) and Mimi Leder (“On the Basis of Sex”).

“Making films is not for the faint of heart,” said Leder, who also has a long list of television directing credits to her name. “Tell your stories. Make movies. Lift each other. Hold up that powerful lens of your experience.”

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