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Many of the most powerful women in the entertainment industry came together Wednesday morning at Milk Studios in Los Angeles to celebrate The Hollywood Reporter‘s Power 100 at the 24th annual THR Women in Entertainment breakfast presented by Lifetime.
Barbra Streisand, celebrated for her roles on stage and screen in addition to her prolific music career, received THR‘s prestigious Sherry Lansing Leadership Award, which honors a woman who is a pioneer and a leader in her field.
Girls creator and star Lena Dunham, also featured on THR‘s Power 100 list, kicked off the event, taking the stage to introduce co-president and chief creative officer of Guggenheim Media’s Entertainment Group Janice Min and senior vp and publisher Lynne Segall.
During her speech, Dunham spoke fondly of her late mentor, Sleepless in Seattle writer-director Nora Ephron, and Ephron’s disdain for panels on women in film. However, she recalled Ephron also saying, “We don’t want to talk about it, but it’s our job to talk about it until there’s nothing left to say.”
Subsequently, Dunham called on the “Hollywood power bitches” in the room to support one another and to support younger generations. “I am advocating for all of us here to make it our mission to use our resources and turn this around as a team,” she said. “To consider women, people of color, LGBTQ people, not just tell their stories but also tap them for jobs that we have historically accepted as being done by white dudes in polar fleeces.”
Min toasted Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley, who was named Executive of the Year. This is the first year the list is unranked — a move explained in depth by Min in a letter from the editor last month.
Min then introduced DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and power publicist Nanci Ryder. Ryder, who went public with her battle with ALS in the pages of THR last year, has since lost her ability to speak. However, her powerful and poignant call to action to end the gender gap in a letter read aloud by Katzenberg made a huge impact, which elicited tears from Ryder and Katzenberg as well as a standing ovation.
“I’m going to use this platform, since you’re now all listening, to make a final request of you. First, donate to ALS. Of course. But then, do something about the woman issue in Hollywood. You are all powerful. This is not rocket science. This is not brain surgery. It’s not even like curing ALS. I wish my disease were as easy to fix as this. It doesn’t take money, researchers or ice bucket challenges,” the letter read. “My problem? Bad. Hollywood’s gender problem? Easy.”
UnReal co-creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro took the stage to unveil Lifetime’s partnership with the AFI Conservatory Directing Workshop for Women (DWW), which will guarantee a job to every graduate of the Institute’s acclaimed program. Shapiro, an AFI grad herself, shared her experiences getting “constantly passed over” for men in the industry in her candid remarks.
“For those of us who have been systematically cock-blocked from doing our lives’ work because of our race or our gender, we know that it’s humiliating; it’s a really, truly horrible experience, and any sane person would give up and go someplace they were welcome. And many, many have. Because after a while, you really start to believe there’s something wrong with you,” she said. In stark contrast, AFI “deemed me worthy. They invested in me. They took me seriously. And they didn’t think there was a damn thing wrong with me. Because you know what? There wasn’t.”
Oscar winner Sean Penn introduced businesswoman and philanthropist Melinda Gates. “Thanks to her, millions of children’s lives have been saved,” Penn said of Gates, who delivered a moving keynote that looked at the bigger and broader difficulties facing women across the world. After turning 50 last year, Gates said she was dedicated to “spend the rest of my lifting up women and girls,” and said it wasn’t just an important goal but also a “possible” goal.
“As you well know, the entertainment industry has an outsized impact on shaping society,” said Gates, who noted she brought her daughter, Phoebe, and her daughter’s friend to the event. “The worlds you create onscreen help expand possibilities for everyone and the world we live in. You have the ability to reflect the world around you. You’re the ones who can project us into a future where everyone, everyone is valued equally.”
Gates concluded: “I’m asking all of you to step up and create a society that tells every girl, ‘Go get it!’ And I’m here in Los Angeles today because you’re exactly the ones who can greenlight that future.”
Sherry Lansing, who called this year’s event “one of the most emotional breakfasts we’ve ever had,” introduced THR‘s Women in Entertainment Mentoring Program, produced in cooperation with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles. The program presents scholarship awards to 18 girls from underserved areas, pairing them with leading figures from the entertainment industry.
Singer and newly minted Grammy nominee Meghan Trainor presented this year’s scholarship awards, giving three of the 18 mentees a full, four-year ride to Loyola Marymount University, valued at $200,000. The first scholarship went to Victoria Arevalo. The second, from ICM Partners, went to Larissa Ramirez. The third scholarship — specifically for Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film & TV— went to Laura Espitia. The Entertainment Industry Foundation and Lifetime are funding the grants — which provide each mentee with $10,000 to be used at the college of her choice.
The breakfast, which was presented by Lifetime and sponsored by Mercedes Benz, American Airlines, South Coast Plaza, Fiji Water, SAG-AFTRA, Gersh, Loyola Marymount University and the Entertainment Industry Foundation, featured dishes from Wolfgang Puck. Event attendees included many women from the Power 100 list such as Fox Television Group’s Dana Walden, NBC Entertainment’s Jennifer Salke, A+E Networks CEO Nancy Dubuc, Shonda Rhimes, Ilene Chaiken, Jill Solloway and Kris Jenner. Other guests included Rita Wilson, Olivia Wilde, Geena Davis, Lea Michele, Selma Blair, Kathy Griffin and director Catherine Hardwicke.
Truth star Robert Redford introduced Streisand, with whom he memorably shared the screen in The Way We Were. He recalled meeting her when she was a teenager and being impressed by her “determination” and “strength” at such a young age. “What a pleasure this is to give this award to somebody who, I think, didn’t revolutionize but instigated a new kind of beauty,” he said.
A director herself, Streisand touched particularly on the lack of women behind the camera. “A lot has been written recently about how few women get the opportunity to direct. Believe it or not, we were doing better in 1916, when 12 women were working as directors in Hollywood. I learned this when my company, Barwood Films, made a documentary in 2000 about the first women filmmakers. But in 2014, almost 100 years later, only 5 of the 150 top-grossing films were directed by women.”
Like Gates’, Streisand’s discussion of gender discrimination stretched far beyond the confines of the entertainment industry, touching on the importance of equality in medicine as well as politics.
“Nothing much has changed, that’s what kind of gets me. As I said in a speech at a Women in Film luncheon in 1984, 32 years ago, men and women in positions of power are described very differently,” she said. “A man is commanding; a woman is demanding. He’s assertive; she’s aggressive. He shows leadership; she’s controlling. A man is committed; she’s obsessed.”
Streisand concluded her speech by touching on a “difficult” subject she said had been a longtime concern for her: women against women. In particular, she pointed to female journalists, whom she called “snarky,” “antagonistic” and “judgmental” when interviewing subjects of the same gender — for instance: presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. “Sometimes it feels as if we’re all all still back in high school, where the boys learn strategy and teamwork, playing football and the girls are competing for the quarterback.”
Calling back to Min’s decision not to rank the Power 100 this year, Streisand urged women “to fight that instinct” to compete against one another and “join forces.”
She continued: “The more we support each other, the stronger we become.”
The event coincides with the publication of THR‘s Women in Entertainment Issue, which recognizes the 100 most powerful women in entertainment. Past recipients of the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award have included Shonda Rhimes, Oprah Winfrey, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, Jodie Foster, Halle Berry, Glenn Close and Barbara Walters.