'Wonder Woman' Is Talk of the Town at Crystal + Lucy Awards

Also: Video messages from Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama and Kamala Harris; Elizabeth Banks calling out Steven Spielberg and a sexist agent; Tracee Ellis Ross' message to the industry; and Dan Rather's call to action are just a few of the many big moments.
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From left: Elizabeth Banks, Zoey Deutch and Cathy Schulman

The Crystal + Lucy Awards — an annual A-list event put on by Women in Film Los Angeles (with help from Max Mara and BMW) as a fundraiser for its educational and philanthropic endeavors and advocacy for gender parity in Hollywood — are more of a marathon than a sprint. From cocktails to closing, the event clocked in at nearly five hours on Tuesday night inside the Beverly Hilton, plenty of time for all of these major moments.

1. Hillary Clinton. During a night dominated by political talk and Wonder Woman praise, Clinton managed to combine the two in her surprise video message for honoree Elizabeth Banks, a longtime Democratic activist and Clinton supporter. "Now I haven't seen Wonder Woman yet, but I'm going to, in part because it's directed by the fabulous Patty Jenkins," gushed Clinton. "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." Also in her zone? Banks. "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," said Clinton, who wasn't the only political superstar to appear in a taped segment. More to come.

2. Everything Wonder Woman. The Jenkins-directed film starring Gal Gadot is No. 1 at the box office and No. 1 among the most-talked about subjects at the annual event, hosted this year by Jessica Williams. She was the first to make mention of the massive Warner Bros. hit. "I think all the straight white make stories have been told," Williams quipped during opening remarks. "At least we finally got Wonder Woman under our golden belt. Seriously though, it's an incredible time to be a woman on film." Others falling in line included Banks, producer Bruno Papandrea, WIF's Cathy Schulman and Universal's Donna Langley, to name only a few. "She's such an amazing ball of power," Langley said in praise of Banks. "Wonder Woman, you have nothing on this lady. But I loved the movie. I did." Banks said she hopes her two young sons do, too. "They are too young to see Wonder Woman, but they're going to love it," claimed Banks. "I am so proud that I get to raise my two boys to love women." Added Papandrea: "I wanted to wear my Wonder Woman costume up here tonight. I wanted Gal's, but it was a little big. We're a different size. I am, however, wearing my invisible cuffs. Cathy [Schulman] is as well. Every woman in this room has those cuffs, and I believe it with all my heart. There isn't anything that none of us can handle."

3. Elizabeth Banks vs. Steven Spielberg. During her acceptance speech, Banks, winner of the Crystal Award for Excellence in Film, explained her answer to the industry's lingering question of how to establish equality in Hollywood. It's simple, she said, after picking up the trophy from Langley. "We can't do it by ourselves. We need dudes. We need the guys. It's our responsibility to bring the men along," she said, urging women to bring men into films and vice versa. Banks then said there's a man who isn't doing that. “I went to Indiana Jones and Jaws and every movie Steven Spielberg ever made, and by the way, he’s never made a movie with a female lead. Sorry, Steven. I don’t mean to call your ass out, but it’s true," she claimed. Not so fast. One audience member then shouted out The Color Purple, to which Banks quickly corrected herself: "OK ... I'm wrong. Ummmmm … he directed?” Mistakenly, another guest said no, so she concluded that her original statement was "right still." Not so much. He did direct The Color Purple and his most recent film, The BFG, had a young girl as its central star. 

4. Elizabeth Banks vs. sexist agent. Early in her career, Banks came face to face with a rep who wanted to put her directly in the plastic surgeon's office. "I was reminded tonight that the first agent I ever met in this business told me to get a boob job. I'm so grateful that I didn't have enough money at the time to follow his advice," she said. "I also did not sign with him to spite that." 

5. Michelle Obama's video message to Tracee Ellis Ross. The former first lady showed up in a surprise video clip to honor the Golden Globe-winning actress, who took home the Lucy Award for Excellence in Television. "You are hilarious," Obama told Ross, who had no idea Obama would be appearing onscreen. "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' reply? “Oh, my goodness gracious!" followed by a faux mic drop. Fitting.

6. Tracee Ellis Ross' message to content creators. The veteran actress loves the greats. She listed Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Lily Tomlin, the "'70s version" of Wonder Woman and The Bionic Woman as her personal favorites growing up. "I found parts of me in all of these women and sometimes it felt like looking in a mirror and knowing i was not alone," explained the actress, who received her award following a lively and expletive-filled tribute from Aisha Tyler. "Watching these women inhabit every inch of their space — not just the real estate that women were relegated to — offered me comfort, courage, showed me what was possible, [and] most importantly, that I was many, many things. We women are many things, but the world view of women is not elastic in its ability to see us expansively." Nor is the industry, she added. "There is work to be done on the representation of black women on television and how women of color are represented in media overall. As black women specifically, we are often objectified, oversexualized and 'sassified.' I really like that word, I made it up. To see Bow, my character on Black-ish, as something other than that on a hit mainstream TV show is really important." (So was her 2016 Emmy nomination for outstanding lead actress in a comedy — the first nomination for a black woman in 30 years.) 

7. Dan Rather's call to action. The legendary newsman took home the Norma Zarky Humanitarian Award from another legend, Robert Redford, the man who played him onscreen in 2015's Truth. "At this difficult crossroads, its easy to say, 'I'm just going to play in my lane,' so to speak. That's not what women in film do," Rather told the audience. "Far beyond what you do for and with the industry here, there is a resonance way beyond that. You do our country — not just the film industry — great service far beyond what you may imagine. it is of tremendous value to our country as a whole." And in the face of divisive language and boorish behavior from elected leaders, Rather said the storytellers in the room shouldn't back down. "I am here to humbly, respectfully remind you that our beloved country and the world needs you and the work you do and what you stand for, perhaps now more than ever," he said. "I suggest that you cannot, must not back down, back away or turn around. You must not waiver, hesitate or get distracted. For yours, my friends, is essential noble work." 

8. Everything about Mira Nair. The filmmaker made her way to the stage, walking with a gray cane to greet her Queen of Katwe star Lupita Nyong'o and accept the BMW Dorothy Arzner Directors Award. The Oscar winner said she was fresh from San Francisco, where she attended Nair's ambitious musical debut as the director of the adaptation of her Monsoon Wedding at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. "They told me to speak softly and carry a big stick. They also told me to break a leg when I started in the theater and I took them seriously and broke a f—ing leg," said Nair, admitting that she's recovering from an injury, hence the cane. Nair delivered a lengthy and entertaining muse on her career in the business, life in Uganda where she lives for six months out of the year and the challenges she still faces in pushing herself creatively. "I find myself, still after all these years of working, knocking at the door to be let in," she said of her Broadway ambitions for Monsoon Wedding. "We cannot afford to mistake the passage of time as progress. The steady march of years is not the same as change. In the face of this, it is so necessary, it is vital to find a community. Find those who build bridges with you and take you further because when all is said and done, there is absolutely no substitute for the act of simply doing the work, of finding the inspiration, of making something happen, and of actually creating."

9. Gratitude to women behind-the-scenes. Max Mara Face of the Future honoree Zoey Deutch paid tribute to her famous mother Lea Thompson ("an incredible actress"), her famous sister Madelyn Deutch ("an amazing writer and actor") and all the "kickass women" in her career. Then she zeroed in on one in particular: CAA power agent Tracy Brennan. "She's brilliant, tough, takes no bullshit and works harder than anyone I know and is thoughtful and kind," Deutch said to a present Brennan, who could be seen wiping tears from her eyes at the compliment. Lucy Award honoree Ross gave a huge shout out to her publicist, ID-PR's Rachel Karten. "I never get a chance to say this," said the Black-ish star. "Publicists, you do a lot. You hold my hand, Rachel. You check if there are boogers in my nose. You just hold me when I'm scared and when I call freaking out. I just thank you for being a part of my team."

10. ReFrame's spin in the spotlight. WIF brought out the big names to help promote its ReFrame initiative, which pushes a formal plan of action to further gender parity in Hollywood. Of the 50 ambassadors in town, five took the stage to share a few words. In order, they were: Sony's Hannah Minghella, The Black List founder Franklin Leonard, WME partner Adriana Alberghetti, WGA's Howard Rodman and producer Bruna Papandrea. It's rare for agents to go on the record, so it was refreshing to hear Alberghetti's take on what needs to change. "We've all been witness to the double standards that exists in our business. For all of us, ReFrame gives a platform to not only address what these inequalities are but actually do something about it," she said. "We are a community that needs to rise above the biases we see, whether they are explicit or implicit, conscious or unconscious. We need to treat artists equally. That means equal opportunity and equal pay."

11. Tom Bernard and Michael Barker's offer. The co-presidents of Sony Pictures Classics took the stage to accept the inaugural Women in Film Beacon Award for their commitment to female storytelling. Presenter Jacki Weaver applauded them for releasing 58 films directed by women, but that fact was later corrected by Bernard, who said he tallied 64 for the duo throughout their career. Barker had another little correction, saying that it was never about gender for them. "Tom and I thought about what the best films were. These were the best artists, the best films," he smiled. Bernard closed his speech by telling the crowd that they will continue to be a place for those directors. "Talent is evenly distributed but opportunity is not. Women deserve to have their ideas and opinions matter, from the time they are little girls throughout the early shaping of their careers," he noted. "Girls and boys need to witness role models that help underscore their unlimited potential. Think of the amazing films that never got made because women and people of color and other underrepresented artists weren't given the opportunities. I want to see these invisible films. Michael and I want to release them. We are waiting for them. Hopefully they will be coming now."

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