5 Questions With WIN Awards Honoree Irena Medavoy

Irena Medavoy   - H 2016
Getty Images

Medavoy will be feted with Abigail Disney as Women of the Year by the Women's Image Network at its 17th annual awards on Wednesday.

Irena Medavoy is many things: a mother, philanthropist, activist, entrepreneur and one-time actress. She will add another name to her résumé — honoree — on Wednesday night when she takes the stage at the 17th annual WIN Awards put on by the Women’s Image Network at Royce Hall in Los Angeles.

Abigail Disney joins Medavoy as a Women of the Year honoree at the event, which is being hosted by Emmy-winning comedian Carol Leifer. The ceremony also will feature a performance by Lebanese-American singer Xriss Jor.

The event has already confirmed a list of attendees that includes Medavoy’s husband, Mike Medavoy, and many of the couple’s good friends. RSVPs include Jennifer and Sylvester Stallone, Lily Tomlin, Sam Elliott and Katharine Ross, Rosanna Arquette, Francesca Eastwood, Frances Fisher, Felicity Huffman, Lisa Edelstein, Joely Fisher, Ted Sarandos, Quincy Jones, Breeda Wool, Cheryl Hines, Joyce Giraud, Tracey Edmonds, Roma Downey, Wendy Goldberg, Lysa Heslov, Ghada Irani, Lyn Lear, Helen Shaver and others.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Medavoy to discuss the award, why she’s been such a supporter of female talent and what the future holds for women in Hollywood.

What does this honor mean to you?
I get to share it with all of my amazing co-hosts, whom I admire so much, starting with Ambassador Nicole Avant, who is giving me the award, and of course the talented Abigail Disney. It's never about the person who gets it but about the platform and the people who support it. If you look at my formidable co-hosts, that is who really is getting this award. They are game-changers.   

You’ve long been a supporter of women. Where does that come from?
My mother, Rita Gerasimenko, was a strong professional woman who nurtured great friendships. My first boss was a woman, Tichi Wilkerson, the [former] editor of The Hollywood Reporter. I was 16 years old and learned about women supporting other women in the workforce by a great mentor. She guided me to USC film school. I saw her create Women in Film and was influenced at a young age to point other women out and lift them up.  

You are mentioned as one of the first supporters of the bi-partisan Truth in Advertising Act, aka the ‘Photoshop law.’ Why was that so important to you?
It’s important to me as a woman who worked in this industry and has seen the dramatic difference that went from airbrushing a pimple to full-on Photoshop with body parts that aren't even yours. I know the statistics of how the media affects young girls starting at 10 years of age. They don't know that ads now are almost all digitally altered and don't reflect anything that is natural. You can look at the ad as a piece of art, but don't think it has anything to do with reality. I don't want young girls comparing themselves to images that are not real without that information.  

The conversation surrounding women and women’s rights and equal pay and equal opportunities — both in Hollywood and beyond — reached a fever pitch in 2015. Has the conversation affected how you consume media? Are you finding yourself seeking out movies, TV shows, music from female artists?
I still consume media by watching everything of quality that I can see. Sometimes it's mental mouthwash. Sometimes it’s a documentary that I cannot stop crying from. I seek out great work. Entertaining work. I think Idris Elba would make an amazing Bond in the vein of Sean Connery. Think Pussy Galore. Diversity. Reese Witherspoon is a producer who develops amazing material. Dana Walden is killing it at Fox. Shonda Rhimes is a genius. Roma Downey develops and produces major product. Donna Langley at Universal had the best year ever. Sherry Lansing is and was and always will be a genius and is always supporting new talent.

What does the future hold for representations of women, and how should Hollywood change in order to support female voices? Or diverse voices?
Hollywood is always evolving. Netflix is diverse TV — just look at the SAG Awards. To have a film festival that solely concentrates on gender and diversity that the Bentonville Film Festival has committed to doing is incredible. It's revolutionary in platforming new opportunities for women artists and diversity. They are hitting the zeitgeist in their second year. Look at Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan and Idris Elba and director Patricia Riggen, who are forging their way into this future with incredibly talented work. As Leonardo DiCaprio said so beautifully at the SAG Awards, ‘For any young actors out there, I encourage you to watch the history of cinema. As the history of cinema unfolds, you realize that we all stand on the shoulders of giants, so I want to thank all of those actors from the past that have inspired me and all of the actors that are in this room.”