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Women in Film, Los Angeles honored a starry group of women in Beverly Hills on Thursday night, with honorees including Quinta Brunson, The Woman King director Gina Prince-Bythewood, Don’t Worry Darling star-director Olivia Wilde and writer Katie Silberman and the She Said team. Michaela Coel was also recognized with the Jane Fonda Humanitarian Award and Lili Reinhart with the WIF Max Mara Face of the Future Award.
The WIF Honors event, held at the Beverly Hilton and hosted by Da’Vine Joy Randolph, was centered around women “forging forward,” and kicked off with Fonda presenting her namesake award to Coel, after personally having chosen her as the recipient.
“I haven’t met her; I know she’s a brave woman, though. She seems willing to jeopardize safety and being accepted for truth and transparency,” Fonda said from the stage of the I May Destroy You star and creator. “What Michaela writes, the way she writes and her values may just be the kinds of things that are going to save the world, if there’s any saving it.”
Coel was not in attendance to accept her honor, but Lake Bell accepted on her behalf with a letter from her, which read, “You [Fonda] so generously posted about I May Destroy You in 2020, and your recognition did so much for its global reach, and more for my mum’s sense of pride in me than anything I could have ever done alone. And for that I could never repay you.”
Viola Davis was on hand to present to Prince-Bythewood, noting in her emotional speech, “She rode this damn horse of a movie until it couldn’t be ridden anymore. And now it is literally, of my 33-year career Gina, it is the work that I’m most proud of because it’s ours.” She also read Walt Whitman’s O Captain! My Captain! poem in tribute.
Rather than acceptance speeches, the event featured short conversations with the honorees; Prince-Bythewood and Davis were joined for a chat with their Woman King costars Lashana Lynch and Thuso Mbedu.
“This is my first invitation [to the WIF event] and to be honored with this group of women, these are all women I have so much respect for,” the director said. “It’s a beautiful thing to be here but also it means everything that these three amazing humans are here to celebrate this with me.”
Miranda July presented to the She Said team — which included star Carey Mulligan, producer Dede Gardner and journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey — and moderated their conversation. Mulligan recalled bringing her young daughter to meet the two journalists — who first broke the Harvey Weinstein abuse story — and saying, “‘I’m telling a story about these two women and they are journalists and they did something, and the story they told changed the world.’ And [her daughter] was like, ‘Oh they’re sort of superheroes then.’ And I said ‘Well yeah, they are really. They’re our superheroes.'”
Reinhart followed with a speech for her Max Mara award, noting, “My openness and honesty about my personal experiences with body dysmorphia, my struggles with acne, mental health and toxic diet culture would turn into clickbait articles that prompted a lot of people to say, ‘Damn, all this girl ever does is complain’ or ‘Can she keep her mouth shut for once?’ But my answer to those people has been and always will be ‘Absolutely not.'”
Abbott Elementary star Sheryl Lee Ralph was up next to present to Brunson, giving a passionate speech on her behalf: “Is Abbott Elementary a breakout success because Quinta is kind and gracious and has created the most supportive environment on a set? Oh yeah, honey, we’re happy — that 5 o’clock call, though, I can’t stand it, but other than that. Maybe all of this is because of her and it is also because she has taken what is true to her heart, and that is her passion for the underdog and the hidden stories that she knows all too well, and she has lifted up those stories like she’s lifted up all of us who get to work with her.”
Ralph joined Brunson for a conversation led by Warner Bros. TV chair Channing Dungey, where Brunson celebrated fellow honorees Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball) and Wilde (Booksmart) for making projects that impacted her.
“You don’t know what woman’s life you’re going to change by doing, by being and by opening doors for others,” Brunson said.
The final award of the night was presented by filmmaker Reed Morano to Wilde and Silberman, as the latter noted that after their collaborations on Don’t Worry Darling and Booksmart, “I’m so inspired working with Olivia because I think she approaches everything from a really brave and interesting perspective, something I haven’t seen before.”
“We wanted to approach this movie by examining traditional gender roles and the way that those traditions have changed and the way we think they’ve changed but they haven’t changed as much,” Silberman added of the Florence Pugh and Harry Styles starrer.
Of the branding of “female director” and “female filmmaker” when talking about a woman-led film, Wilde said, “I think being treated like a niche section of the industry is not progress; we don’t want to be a category; we want to be equal.” She also spoke about the importance of women supporting each other in the industry, noting past advice and support from Morano and Greta Gerwig.
“We need that community because sometimes it’s really difficult — really difficult to be heard, really difficult to keep going,” Wilde said. “The hero narrative of directors is complete bullshit — no director does it on their own, ever. But I think in my experience, having that sense of female collaboration has made it possible.”
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