The entertainment industry elite celebrated achievements of female actors, writers and producers Wednesday night at the 2019 Women in Film Gala, formerly known as the Crystal + Lucy Awards. Held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, the annual event raises funds for Women In Film, Los Angeles, supporting the organization’s efforts to advance women’s careers and promote gender parity.
Receiving the top award of the night was actress and producer Amy Poehler, who was named the Entrepreneur in Entertainment honoree. Speaking before a ballroom of mostly women, Poehler eschewed the traditional awards speech, opting instead to call out the titles of films and television created by women as well as outstanding female representatives in entertainment and sports.
“To all the mothers, all the brothers and all the sisters here tonight, thank you, thank you. More, more, more,” concluded Poehler, who wore black-framed glasses, a sharp blazer and sneakers for the occasion.
Natasha Lyonne presented Poehler’s award, paying tribute to the co-creator of her Netflix series “Russian Doll,” which was recently renewed for a second season. “Amy taught me how to take up space unapologetically and for that I’m deeply grateful to you forever and I love you,” Lyonne said. “She subverted the whole system. Amy has always been a mogul. Our community’s definitive North Star.”
Upon receiving the Emerging Entrepreneur Award, breakout actress and producer Issa Rae also bucked convention with her awards speech. Clad in a long, sleek white Max Mara blazer, Rae explained that she planned to emulate the rap artists that she had idolized growing up: “Emerging entrepreneur award, I’m the first, bitches! So, the future ho needs to bow down. I’m closing all doors behind me so if you didn’t make it in, your bad,” Rae said to raucous laughs and cheers from the audience. “Entrepreneur means I did that s–t by myself.”
Producer Stephanie Allain, who recalled on the red carpet how she was first introduced to the actress’ work years ago by her stepdaughter, presented Rae’s award “The work that she’s doing is very exciting because the young people are creating companies for people coming up under them. That’s how you know this industry is going to make it. As women, it’s not just about bringing ourselves up, it’s about providing opportunities for the next generation.”
Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis recognized producer and former WIF president Cathy Schulman for her tireless advocacy. “Her great legacy will be her fierce, unapologetic advocacy for women both under her prior leadership at this organization, but more importantly in her workplace,” Davis said. “It’s true that we all need to be our own heroes. There are hundreds of women who will never know the extent of the heroics that this woman went through on their behalf.”
In an emotional speech, Schulman spoke of the many personal and professional sacrifices she had made throughout her career. Ahead of the event on the red carpet, Schulman reflected on the meaning of taking a moment to celebrate. “When I first heard about it, I thought how could we possibly have time to stop and give me an award, let alone anyone an award? We have so much work to do,” Schulman said. “What actually happened is that I really spent a few days looking at the work I have done over the past few years for gender parity, in a bird’s-eye kind of a way. It was awful when I started. Nobody knew how we were being treated differently and our stories weren’t being told. We have really made progress. So we are taking a moment pausing and appreciating, and then back to work tomorrow.”
Schulman, who wore a brightly hued Missoni wrap dress, also described a revelation she had when choosing her wardrobe for the gala. “I shopped and shopped looking for the perfect pantsuit to receive an important award like an advocacy award and realized I was being part of the problem,” Schulman said. “There were pantsuits all over the dressing room. I was at Neiman Marcus and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m wearing pants so I can look like a man. And I’m here being honored because I’m a woman. So I’m going to find a bold dress.’”
Max Mara Face of the Future recipient and Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki, who was honored the previous evening at a pre-event cocktail party, quoted writer Meg Nelson in her acceptance speech. “She said, ‘I want to live in a world where the antidote to shame is not honor but honesty.’ And I feel like that is the essence of what’s happening in this moment where we are seeing this kind of change that is happening in the industry. And it fills me with such hope.”
WIF board member and actress Lake Bell named five female directors including Mimi Leder (On The Basis Of Sex), Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), Debra Granik (Leave No Trace), Chloé Zhao (The Rider) and Anne Fletcher (Dumplin‘) as the winners of the inaugural WIF Members’ Choice Award. “Out of 700 feature films released in 2018, there were 40 women to chose from,” Bell told WWD. “So that’s not great. But I am really proud of these five women and just excited to see those numbers over the years hopefully change. Rooms like this are very important. This is the heartbeat of the movement.”
While announcing the inaugural class of ReFrame Rise directors, Kyra Sedgwick said, “As an actor transitioning into directing, I know how important it is to be supported at every level in this industry. And that requires a community-wide commitment to expand the lens to include bright, new voices and perspectives.”
ReFrame is a joint initiative between WIF and the Sundance Institute aimed at advancing the careers of female directors. Desiree Akhaaen, Haifaa al-Mansour, Patricia Cardoso, Hanelle Culpepper, Sydney Freeland, Zetna Fuentes, Tina Mabry and Meera Manon were the eight directors selected for the initiative’s two-year sponsorship.
“Russian Doll” actor Charlie Barnett, who attended the event to support Poehler and Lyonne, addressed the need for men to serve as advocates for women in the industry. “When you walk into every show, every opportunity, any contract that you have, you have to be the first to say, look what’s going on here? I need to know the details.” Barnett said. “And you get in contact with your female co-workers and make sure they know they have an advocate. I think the best thing is to communicate with your female co-workers in a true, honest and safe way so they understand you are here for whatever they need.”
Hosted by actress Xosha Roquemore and sponsored by Max Mara, Lexus and Delta Airlines, the gala, which was first held in 1977, raised $150,000 over the course of the night, surpassing WIF’s goal of $100,000.