Hollywood's Top Democrats on Glass Ceilings and the Party's Next Hope for President
Yeah, Hillary lost. Time to move on, as Warner Bros. marketing chief Sue Kroll, Chelsea Handler and the town's other (female) political influencers talk about what's next: "I knew Obama was going to be our next president, and I feel that way about Kamala Harris."
Meet the industry women who make up today's power Democrat backers — all of them Hillary Clinton and Kamala Harris supporters and many first inspired into action by Barack Obama speaking at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. "He made me see that all politics weren't corrupt and that there are politicians who care about public service," says Netflix's Chelsea Handler.
With the recent selection of Steven Mnuchin as President-elect Donald Trump's Treasury secretary, the line connecting Hollywood to Washington, D.C., is stronger than ever. "This particular year, campaigning for Kamala and Hillary, felt like a different kind of year, so I was more involved than in the past," says Warner Bros.' Sue Kroll, who spearheaded and attended several campaign events for Harris in 2016. Other high-powered backers include Universal Pictures' Donna Langley, who spent election night with Kamala Harris' camp at Exchange LA in downtown and has said Harris inspires young voters and increases opportunities for women. These industry insiders came together for Sen.-elect Harris, whom many met when she was San Francisco district attorney from 2004 to 2011. "Kamala is going to be a senator who engages with everyone, [including] Republicans," says U.S. ambassador Nicole Avant.
Like Clinton, who suffered a bitter presidential defeat, Gotham Group's Ellen Goldsmith-Vein knows "the meaning of a glass ceiling. I feel that every day." The gender barrier, adds Kroll, is "relevant — look at our election and politics. There are not a lot of women." The remedy? "We have to persevere, [put] women in key jobs and make contributions to whatever will make a difference."
Nicole Avant, U.S. ambassador
"When I was ambassador, I had a lot of men who were very uncomfortable with me," says Avant, 48, who was posted to the Bahamas by Obama. She asked one, " 'Is it because I'm female? Black? Young?' He said, 'All of the above, ma'am.' " Avant, who is married to Netflix's Ted Sarandos, didn't become professionally political until Obama became president, but this past year, she co-hosted an event for Harris.
Ellen Goldsmith-Vien, Gotham Group CEO
A key figure among Hollywood Dems who has been active since John Kerry's 2004 presidential run, Goldsmith-Vein, 52, and her husband, MarketShare CEO Jon Vein, "supported Barack long before that was popular," she says. The Veins hosted a 2007 Obama fundraiser at their Hancock Park home: "We couldn't get people to show. You start off at $2,700, then you're asking people for $1,000, then $500, $200. Then you're calling in favors." Jamie Foxx ultimately emceed and neighbor Shonda Rhimes introduced Obama. Goldsmith-Vein served on Clinton's National Finance Committee with Jon, who was a delegate.
Chelsea Handler, host of Chelsea
"I got charged up when I heard Obama speak in 2004 and thought, like many other people that day, 'This man is going to be president,' " says Handler, 41. The comedian, who co-hosted an Oct. 25 fundraiser for Harris and whose Netflix show tackles racism, among other topics, adds that celebrity involvement in politics can be dubious — "we'd probably be better off if we didn't" — but notes, "I've decided to use my show for good, and I have always been a loudmouth anyway."
Lysa Heslov, Children Mending Hearts founder
"I was raised a Republican," says producer Heslov, 51, "but I vote for people whose policies I relate to." Heslov, who is married to George Clooney's business partner Grant Heslov, voted for Clinton, who she felt "should have hosted a lower-cost event for millennials that wasn't $100 million a person." She led a handful of Harris fundraisers this year and says about hearing Obama speak in 2004: "I [knew] that was going to be our next president, and I feel that way about Kamala Harris."
Sue Kroll, President of worldwide marketing and distribution for Warner Bros.
"I have kept my career and politics very separate, but this year I lent my time to Kamala," says Kroll, 55, who hosted lunches, one with director McG. "I have resources now and access to people that I've never had before. I can make a difference; I know that I can."
Andrea Nevins, Documentary filmmaker
During the 2016 election cycle, Nevins, who is 54 and married to Showtime president David Nevins, headed up a fundraiser with Chelsea Clinton at the Nevins' home as well as Harris' first campaign event. Also an Eric Garcetti supporter, she first began supporting Clinton with her 1994 A&E doc Hillary Rodham Clinton. Nevins' mantra: "If you have a voice of any kind, I think you need to use it."
Shannon Rotenberg, J.K. Livin Foundation executive director
As part of the original group of women involved in Hollywood and politics, Rotenberg, 41, who was program manager at CAA and is married to 3 Arts partner-manager Michael Rotenberg, was involved in supporting candidates and causes early on, alongside Showtime's Trisha Cardoso as well as Chrisette Hudlin, whose spouse is filmmaker and former BET president Reginald Hudlin. "I got involved in politics at a very young age," she says. Rotenberg was first introduced to Kamala Harris when she was District Attorney of San Francisco through Hudlin and Cardoso. "Chrisette made the original call and got me involved at the very beginning with Kamala. Trisha rallied everyone together and brought all our friends together for her beginning fundraisers," she says of the initial group of Hollywood women supporting Harris, which also included Fox TV Group chairman and CEO Dana Walden. Rotenberg continues to champion Harris, who is a key figure in uniting the industry's political power women, "It's wonderful to see friends of ours that had not been that involved in politics, get empowered, involved because of Kamala — she inspires everyone."
A version of this story first appeared in the 2016 Women in Entertainment Power 100 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.