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During last night’s Time 100 Gala lauding the world’s most influential people, honoree Viola Davis joked, “Listen, I’m still trying to influence my 6-year-old.” Still, she and her gathered contemporaries at the Home of Jazz at Lincoln Center felt the weight of being singled out.
“This is probably the most humbling distinction that I’ve been awarded,” Moonlight director Barry Jenkins told The Hollywood Reporter before accepting a handshake from Harvey Weinstein, just two months after his film garnered three Oscars, including the whiplash-inducing best picture. “I didn’t expect this one for sure. You don’t campaign to be on the Time 100 list.”
As soon as she arrived for the cocktail hour, Sarah Paulson — who won an Emmy in 2016 for The People v. O.J. Simpson — beelined for a photo with her Time portrait, which seemed to hover overhead with the others, seconds from evaporating.
“It was disbelief,” she said of learning she’d been recognized in a collection of Pioneers, Artists, Leaders, Titans and Icons. “This is my own naivete and potential idiocy: I didn’t know that actors were on the list.” Her girlfriend, Holland Taylor, meanwhile, said she was “not at all” surprised. British actor and rapper Riz Ahmed assured THR that the acknowledgement would not inflate his ego. “I feel like it’s more kind of a vote of confidence rather than an award for any achievement that I’ve already done,” he said. “I feel like it’s, ‘Now go earn it.'”
Saturday Night Live‘s Leslie Jones did provide some levity when approached for comment: “No, I’m going in, my feet are killing me.” Joining her for the ceremony were additional 2017 honorees including — from the news and entertainment world — Margot Robbie, Jason Blum, Samantha Bee, Gretchen Carlson, RuPaul and Ryan Reynolds (escorted by wife Blake Lively, a 2011 recipient, and his mom, Tammy).
Former honorees like Weinstein, Megyn Kelly, Trevor Noah, Charlie Rose, Katie Couric and Arianna Huffington were also in attendance. After introductions by Time Inc. president and CEO Rich Battista and Time editor-in-chief Nancy Gibbs, the crowd was treated to a three-song performance from another of this year’s influencers, Demi Lovato (when she got tongue-tied expressing her thanks, she offered up an endearing, “Sorry, I was homeschooled”).
A Citi, Aston Martin and Johnnie Walker-sponsored dinner followed, featuring a lobster appetizer and a main course of tenderloin. Then five of the recognized guests toasted their own greatest influences. “Since I got out of the elevator I’ve been very emotional,” said Ava DuVernay. “I’m not usually that way — I’m a director and I tell people what to do — but tonight I’m feeling a little open.”
She then remembered her late aunt, Denise Amanda Sexton, an inquisitive night nurse in Compton, California, who never married and frequently took her niece to the movies. “I understood deeply at that young age that as a black woman, a black girl, a black woman, movies affected the way I saw myself.”
In the final toast, Davis recounted visiting Gambia in her mid-20s, watching an entire Mandinka tribe participate in a ritual asking God to bless a group of infertile women. She raised a glass to “Everyone who has decided to live a life bigger than yourself. Everyone who decided to slay those dragons and say, ‘It’s not just about me.'”
One of the evening’s last arrivals, John Legend — en route from a Late Show with Stephen Colbert appearance — closed out the festivities with an eight-tune medley that ended with “Glory,” his Academy Award-winning song from DuVernay-directed Selma. Everyone reconvened in the adjacent atrium for dessert and an afterparty, where Jones wore nothing on her feet but blue toenail polish.
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