Wiesenthal Center, Hollywood Power Elite Honor Netflix's Ted Sarandos

Ted Sarandos
Ted Sarandos
 

The Simon Wiesenthal Center honored Ted Sarandos with its highest award Tuesday night at a Beverly Hills gala that not only raised more than $1.6 million for the center and its museum, but also signaled once again the Netflix executive’s meteoric rise into Hollywood’s power elite.

Sarandos, who is Netflix's chief content officer and the architect of its highly successful foray into original programming, was presented with the Humanitarian Award for his support of the center and its Museum of Tolerance, while three other honorees were presented with Wiesenthal’s Medal of Valor awards for assisting persecuted Jews during World War II and the state of Israel's infancy.

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"We are delighted to honor one of the entertainment industry's great innovators, Ted Sarandos, and the three recipients of our Medal of Valor award who are traveling from all parts of the world to be with us," Rabbi Marvin Hier, Wiesenthal Center founder and dean, told the Beverly Wilshire audience, which included the evening’s co-chairmen, Jim Gianopulos (last year’s Humanitarian Award winner), Jeffrey Katzenberg, Ron Meyer, Haim Saban and Harvey Weinstein, who flew in from New York to attend the dinner along with his company’s COO David Glasser. Like Sarandos and his wife, former ambassador Nicole Avant, all of the other executives in attendance were among Hollywood's most influential Democratic fundraisers.

The center’s Medals of Valor went to the late Mike Flanagan, an Irishman who deserted the British Army to fight alongside the Israelis in their war of independence; Massimo Paruccini and Mercedes Virgili, who hid persecuted Jews in the Italian town of Secchiano during World War II; and noted Arabic language writer Boualem Sansal, who has criticized anti-Semitism in his native Algeria and defied the anti-Israeli cultural boycott. During a video presentation, Scarlett Johansson also was praised for sticking to her decision to appear in ads for SodaStream, which has a factory in a West Bank settlement, despite criticism from Oxfam, which led Johansson to step down from her role as an Oxfam ambassador.

Sarandos and his wife Avant were the evening’s stars, flanked by Saban and Katzenberg at a table of the entertainment industry’s A-list executives and members of their families, including Sarandos' two children and Avant's father, legendary Motown dealmaker Clarence Avant, and her brother, producer Alex Avant.

“It's a rather unique tradition that we're seeing here at the Simon Wiesenthal center,” Katzenberg told the crowd. “This is the second year in a row that the Jews are honoring a Greek. There are actually many, many reasons why tonight’s honoree is deserving of this recognition. As a businessman, he is helping lead one of the world's most innovative companies. As a creative executive, he has an unrivaled record for shepherding successful, high-quality programing. As someone who is literally shaping our culture, he is almost single-handedly changing how we all consume television today.

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“But tonight we are honoring him simply because, though his name may be Sarandos, he is a mensch.”

Katzenberg also praised Avant for being one of the most "generous and wonderful people in our community and a great partner to Ted. … They have personal raised many millions of dollars to bring arts education to kids in underserved schools around the country."

Tuesday’s gala was the first of two days of celebration for Avant and Sarandos, who later took the red eye to New York, where Avant is being honored Wednesday afternoon by Girls Inc. for her work in encouraging young women’s participation in business.

At the Beverly Hills event, Weinstein hugged Avant and congratulated her on her award, telling her that while he couldn’t attend the Girls Inc. luncheon, he had made a contribution to its work in her honor.

In his address in Beverly Hills Tuesday night, Sarandos thanked the dinner’s co-chairs by name, saying he had “learned so much from all of these men and now enjoy the friendship and support from them that I have vowed to pay forward. They are the models for success in entertainment, but more than that, they are models for humanity. … It’s not enough to win unless the winnings are spread in a way that matters to more than just them. They are the best at what they do, and more important, they are friends. To borrow a word, real mensches …"

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Turning directly to the Wiesenthal Center’s work, Sarandos said, “I have been to and my family has been to and been touched by the Museum of Tolerance. As a history buff, I generally go to museums to see artifacts from the past and learn about things ancient. Unfortunately, the things I saw at the Museum of Tolerance reminded me that the history of hate and brutality are in many cases very recent and too often alive and well.

"The horrors of the Holocaust must never be forgotten. It was not an event from the past; it was an expression of the worst mankind has to offer. Too many evildoers and silent witnesses and not enough heroes. … People like me -- 50-year-old white Catholic males -- have historically been on the wicked side of prejudice and discrimination, so how is it that the Museum of Tolerance captures and speaks to my personal experiences? What injustices have I suffered?

“Well, until 1967, the loving union between myself and my amazing wife, ambassador Nicole Avant [who is African-American] was illegal in [much of] this country.

“It took the Supreme Court of the United Sates to say that state laws forbidding marriage between races were unconstitutional. The small minds that fought to keep these bigoted laws in place used words like “nature” and “God's will” to make their case for rules on marriage. … That ugly bit of history behind us, one would hope that we have come a long way.

“But just a few weeks ago, as we drove up to attend the Academy Awards, I saw dozens of people on the streets with signs protesting the entertainment industry and even had their kids as young as 5 years old holding signs that read 'GOD HATES FAGS.'

“For them, we have a show on Netflix called Orange Is the New Black.  … The fear, hate and intolerance that leads to violence and discrimination and genocide is the part of the human condition that must be continuously exposed and I am thankful for the Museum of Tolerance for doing just that and driven to create TV shows and movies that do just that."

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