Amy Poehler, Issa Rae and Elizabeth Debicki Praise Female Changemakers at Women in Film Gala

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Issa Rae (left) and Amy Poehler

Rae paid homage to her favorite hip-hop artists with her tongue-in-cheek speech, while Poehler honored the women in media who have inspired her asking for "more, more, more, more, more."

Elizabeth Debicki woke up Wednesday morning in a cold sweat. "Why is it difficult for me to accept any kind of recognition?" she asked the audience at the 2019 Women in Film gala at the Beverly Hilton that same night.

It was, to her, "something taught by a system that tells women they should achieve with a kind of humility and with a kind of silent gratitude for what we're given, which stung me a little bit," bemoaned Debicki, the Max Mara Face of the Future honoree at the annual benefit.

The Widows star quoted writer Maggie Nelson with an aspirational motto: "I want to live in a world in which the antidote to shame is not honor, but honesty." Debicki commended the clarity of such an event as the Women in Film gala with embodying that message of encouraging, emboldening and enabling every woman in the room. "There's no pretenses about what's happening."

Issa Rae, the mastermind behind HBO's hit comedy Insecure and co-founder of the production company ColorCreative, drove that message home when she took the stage to accept the first-ever Emerging Entrepreneur in Entertainment Award, presented by Stephanie Allain. The honor recognizes "a promising talent in the fields of film, television, and/or digital media, whose professional pursuits are resulting in progress for the next generation of talented women" and is someone who has "demonstrated a foundation for her career comprising of accomplishments marrying creative achievements and business acumen." 

Onstage, Rae chuckled at how she had just seen her dad randomly walk in only 10 minutes before and she hadn't told him about the award. "He's not gonna like my speech," she said.

As she accepted the prize, Rae referenced Debicki's speech, noting "sometimes I feel like as women we tend to downplay ourselves, tend to dim our light. And we're kind of conditioned socially to be humble."

Rae added that growing up in the age of hip-hop, she recognized how none of her favorite artists were humble: "They don't even know what that means." So, she decided to embrace the moment in honor of them, stressing how thankful she was before saying "the opposite of what I would normally say, so keep that in mind."

Rae proceeded to go line by line in her speech, giving herself praise where credit was undoubtedly due.

"Emerging Entrepreneur Award," she read. Not skipping a beat, she turned right to the audience and declared: "Duh, bitches."

"The first — you future hoes need to bow down," she said to uproarious laughter in the audience. 

Her speech went on to include one liners where she added things like:

"'Entrepreneur' means I did that shit by myself."

"Casey [Bloys] and Amy [Gravitt] at HBO, keep running me my money. Please and thank you."

"And to everybody who claims to have helped me get here ... OK, and?"

Rae couldn't keep from breaking in the end, laughing and smiling to herself along with the crowd as she concluded with: "Entrepreneur 'til I die. I deserve this. Bye." 

Natasha Lyonne came on next to present Amy Poehler with another inaugural award, Entrepreneur in Entertainment, which highlights an individual "whose work nurtures the advancement of their female collaborators" and whose creative output and influence is "benefiting the conversation about gender parity in our industry."

The Russian Doll star at first mentioned her confusion at how her co-executive producer and co-creator on the Netflix comedy never sleeps. "I've even stood outside her window like Bob from Twin Peaks. Nothing! No sleep," Lyonne joked to the audience, which included Charlie Barnett, her co-star on the series that was just renewed for a second season.

"See, Amy gets that in this bizarre, sociopolitical, upside-down, backslide country careening toward global annihilation, we women have to make all the art and film and series and shows we can while we're still legally free to do so," the actress said. "Amy Poehler gets it, and she'll make you laugh over it. You should be crying, but somehow you'll be laughing."

Lyonne thanked Poehler for teaching her "how to take up space unapologetically. For that, I'm deeply grateful to you forever." She also congratulated Poehler on her directorial feature debut Wine Country: "It just came out last month on Netflix to the delight of smart people with good taste everywhere."

After Lyonne called "the best co-conspirator a lady could ask for" onto the stage, Poehler put her reading glasses on and got down to business — of reciting the names of female game-changers and projects helmed by women and/or with women front and center for the entirety of her speech. Those included: A League of Their Own, Boys Don't CryTiny Furniture, Russian Doll, Fleabag, Better Things, Broad City, Insecure, Serena Williams, Lena Waithe, Rashida Jones, Viola Davis, Emma Gonzalez, Frances McDormand, Dr. Anita Hill, Captain Marvel, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Real Women Have Curves, U.S. Women's Soccer and more. 

After finishing her list, Poehler thanked "all the mothers, all the sons, all the brothers here tonight and my sisters that aren't." And she simply asked for "more, more, more, more, more," using her time onstage to solidify women's impact on media and global culture through their art and professions.

The Women in Film gala also bestowed Cathy Schulman with the Crystal Lucy Advocacy in Entertainment Award. The event was presented by Max Mara for the 17th year, with support from Delta Air Lines and Lexus.