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Thursday proved to be a big night to stay in for Kenya Barris, Jane Cha Cutler and Richard and Demi Weitz. They were honored by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles during the organization’s “The Big Night In” virtual gala.
Black-ish creator Barris received the Defender of Potential Award, Project Runway producer Cutler took home the Sherry Lansing Award, and the Weitz father-daughter duo was feted with the Walt Disney Philanthropists of the Year Award. The Netflix presented gala, which kicked off with a DJ set by D-Nice, supports the org’s mission of serving youth in underserved communities in Los Angeles by providing and supporting one-to-one mentoring.
Newly-installed Dancing with the Stars host Tyra Banks rolled out the awards program by presenting to Barris whom she has known for a long time and admired because his “talent is crazy.” She added: “I saw it before Black-ish hit — that’s when the world recognized how much of a genius he was and how daring he was, how bold he was, how strong his voice was, and he is only getting the recognition that he has been due.”
In accepting, Barris said, “I feel like the organization as a whole is exactly what this award is to me. It’s an award to defend potential. What you guys do for children who, like me, are looking for something or someone that they can look to for guidance and love and support, is something that I think is so under-expected and underrepresented in the world. I hope that more people understand and continue to support what you guys do for people, where other people may not see the potential.”
Prolific producer Nina Jacobson honored Cutler with the Sherry Lansing Award by calling her a “powerful force in the industry and shining role model” who lives up to the praise by serving as a Big Sister herself for a young woman named Angelica.
Cutler said: “Being a Big Sister has been a privilege that has brought more gratification than I ever could have imagined. If I’ve been able to have even a fraction of the effect on my ‘little sister’ Angelica that she has had on me, I consider myself extremely fortunate. The work that BBBSLA does day-in and day-out is so important. Sometimes a young person needs just one other person to talk to, to have them gently guide and reassure her that she is seen. In my case, it would have been impossible to miss because my ‘little sister’ shone like the star she is from the outset.”
A star from the executive ranks showed up to honor WME partner Richard and daughter Demi. Walt Disney Company executive chairman Bob Iger turned out to present the trophy named for his studio following six months of Quarantunes fundraisers that have featured hundreds of artists, raised money for dozens of charities and kept Hollywood buzzing during the extended period of isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To date, the series has raised close to a whopping $10 million. Iger logged on to the private concert series on multiple occasions, even turning out when the cast of Hamilton showed up ahead of the film’s launch on Disney+ to raise funds for Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative. The honor made Demi the youngest recipient of the prize and is the latest award for the 17-year-old following an earlier trophy from Girls, Inc.
“Walt Disney was fond of saying ‘it’s kind of fun to do the impossible.’ Demi and Richard, to accomplish all that you have done, benefiting so many people, so many different causes and organizations, probably seemed quite impossible back in March when you got this started,” Iger said in his introduction. “But with great heart, enthusiasm and determination – and we certainly know you both have a lot of that – you have demonstrated the truth of Walt’s words in a very real, very very tangible way. So, thank you for showing us all what is possible and for enriching the lives of so many people at such a critical time.”
Seated in Quarantunes headquarters — aka their kitchen — Richard accepted and said, “Life works in mysterious ways, and when you put others in need before yourself, good things will happen. And that’s what we did, and what we will continue to do.”
Added Demi: “I’ve been given the opportunity to have an amazing education, to have an amazing family, and to have my voice be heard during this pandemic, and what Big Brothers Big Sisters does is so vital and all of these kids need mentors so they too can use their voice and have the resources to change the world.”
In other accolades, Lizeth Guevara was honored as the BBBSLA Big Sister of the Year and Chris Smith for BBBSLA Big Brother of the Year. Other co-sponsors of the night included Amazon Studios, the Chuck Lorre Family Foundation, City National Bank, IMAX, Mar Vista Investment Partners and Union Bank.
Following the program, nearly 400 guests stayed online for a virtual Disney-themed Quarantunes after-party featuring live musical performances of Disney songs. In a surprise move, Richard also announced that he had agreed to join the BBBSLA board.
Actress Jodi Benson sang “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid; superstar Michael Bolton performed “Go the Distance” from Hercules (and his hit Fathers & Daughters); actress and singer Vanessa Williams sang “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas and gave an impromptu rendition of her hit, “Save the Best for Last”; Israeli singer and Eurovision winner Netta turned out an electro-infused rendition of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” from Mary Poppins, as well as her original song “I’m Not Your Toy”; Auliʻi Cravalho, voice of Moana, performed both a rendition of “How Far I’ll Go” and a short version of “You’re Welcome”; Peabo Bryson with “A Whole New World”; Broadway superstar Susan Egan performed a medley of stage hits; so did Mean Girls stars Erika Henningsen and Kyle Selig; and Ramin Karimloo on a solo performance and with his band The Dives.
Also appearing to honor the Weitz duo were Miss Piggy, Mark Hamill, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, and Josh Gad, the latter of whom heaped praise on the two. “The amount of good you’re doing in this world, it’s inspiring,” he said. “It’s inspiration at a time when the world needs inspiration.”
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