The defiant spirit of the charity organization Fuck Cancer was on proud display at the Barbara Berlanti Heroes Gala, held Saturday at Warner Bros. Studios, where the group gathered to pay tribute to two of its real-life superheroes: Arrow star Stephen Amell, who has long been a visible champion of the cause, and its co-founder Yael Cohen Braun.
The event was spearheaded by Amell’s Arrow executive producer Greg Berlanti and named in honor of his late mother, who succumbed to cancer in 2017. Several of the stars of Berlanti’s many DC Comics-derived series on The CW showed up in support, including The Flash’s Candice Patton and Danielle Panabaker, Arrow’s Juliana Harkavy and Legends of Tomorrow’s Maisie Richardson-Sellers.
While scheduled performer Ariana Grande — one of the music superstars managed by Cohan Braun’s husband Scooter Braun — ended up canceling her appearance (next-day headlines revealed she had split with her fiancé, Saturday Night Live castmember Pete Davidson), her planned duet partner Kristen Chenoweth carried on as the headliner, and The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah also stepped in.
Amell, who was presented with the organization’s Hero Award by co-founder Julie Greenbaum, told reporters before the event that being honored for his efforts “feels like kind of the next step in a journey.” The actor became involved with the group six years earlier as a result of his own mother’s twice-successful battles with the disease, and he’d helped recruit Berlanti to the board of directors. “It’s taught me an important lesson, which is that the contributions of many overpower the big contribution of one,” said Arnell.
The actor said he’s constantly amazed at how his fans have donated to the organization — even often apologizing for not being able to give more. “They say ‘I know it’s just five dollars.’ It’s not just five dollars … I’ve been really amazed at the amount of people that I’ve been able to reach, and I’m glad that this event is being hosted by Greg Berlanti, because he, more than anyone, is the person that has allowed me to reach those people.”
“This month, for me, has been very much about focusing on my mom’s memory and also just proactively what I can do as an individual to use any assets or means I have to get awareness around this issue,” Berlanti, who also recently oversaw a charity script reading of Terms of Endearment at the Geffen Theater to benefit Stand Up to Cancer, told The Hollywood Reporter. “Between the two events, we’re going to raise over a half a million dollars in this month. That was not at all what I thought would’ve happened, to be honest. So to see how everyone sort of stepped up and, for better or worse, just how many people are affected by this disease.”
An additional array of industry faces also showed up in support, many from the extended CW/Warner Bros. family, including the studio’s chairman and CEO Kevin Tsujihara, motion picture head Toby Emmerich, TV chief Peter Roth, The Vampire Diaries and Legacies executive producer Julie Plec and Crazy Rich Asians star Constance Wu. “Warner Bros has been incredible,” said Berlanti. “They fronted at least half the event, and they stepped up when they didn’t have to.”
From the Brauns’ orbit came stars including rapper Lil Dicky and actress Olivia Munn, who presented the Vanguard Award to Cohen Braun.
Cohen Braun admitted she never expected to find herself accepting an award for her efforts that began humbly as a digital rallying cry for patients and family members struggling with cancer during her mother’s fight with breast cancer in 2009.
“I started a Facebook group called Fuck Cancer,” she told THR. “It was mostly a way for me to let friends know what was happening because I wasn’t doing a great job of talking about it. I came back a few days later, and there were a couple of thousand people. I was like, ‘Holy shit, I don’t know a couple of thousand of people!’ It became really obvious that it was a sentiment that resonated far beyond me and my family, and it serves as kind of a war cry for us. Other people felt the same resonance with it, and it grew really, really organically from there, filling a need that I saw personally and that felt right for me, and obviously, along the way, it felt right for some other people, too.”
Berlanti says he loves the organization’s name — and so did his mother. “My mom was very liberal with the use of the f-word to begin with, actually, and she loved what it stood for,” he said. “I think it’s in this essence that this disease can rob you of a lot of things, but there’s a lot of things that it can’t take from you, and that it can’t take from you your connections with people and how good you’ve done in the world and your legacy. She loved that.”
Cohen Braun remains enamored of the name she coined herself, as well. “It’s exactly how I felt then and exactly how I continue to feel,” she said. “I think no matter who you are and no matter what you think of either of those words, at some point throughout the process, you feel that in your core.”