Entertainment’s leading women gathered at Milk Studios on Wednesday to celebrate The Hollywood Reporter‘s Power 100 at the Women in Entertainment event, presented by Lifetime.
This year, the star-studded event — which coincides with the publication of THR’s annual Women in Entertainment Power 100 — honored Reese Witherspoon with the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award, highlighting a woman who is a pioneer in her field.
Ahead of the ceremony, A-listers mixed and mingled, with Witherspoon chatting with her Morning Show guest star Mindy Kaling and sharing a moment on the red carpet with Lansing herself, as Witherspoon’s husband Jim Toth, head of acquisitions and talent at Quibi, and her children Ava and Deacon Phillippe looked on.
Gigi Gorgeous, Chelsea Handler, Connie Britton, Kaitlyn Dever, Eva Longoria, Netflix’s Cindy Holland, Universal’s Donna Langley, Quibi’s Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman and Amazon Studios’ Jennifer Salke were also among the attendees sipping on coffee, green juice and champagne.
Inside the breakfast, Deanna Brown, president of THR parent MRC Media, and Lynne Segall, THR executive vp and group publisher, kicked off the morning, thanking sponsors Cadillac, Fiji Water, Moroccan Oil, eOne, Gersh, SAG-AFTRA, and Loyola Marymount University. THR editorial director Matthew Belloni was then joined onstage by Olivia Wilde — guest editor of the Women in Entertainment issue — who said that with the magazine she wanted to explore “the phenomenon of feminine strength as it has been redefined by a new era in Hollywood, the era of the sisterhood.”
Following Wilde’s comments, Lifetime senior vp unscripted development and programming Brie Bryant spoke about the network’s recent R. Kelly documentary series, commending the strength of the survivors and parents involved who “without the guts to become uncomfortable and provide raw honesty, we might not have ignited this global conversation. Without the belief that despite all the consequences, every girl and woman deserves to be heard and seen — and most importantly believed.”
Gretchen Carlson presented Ronan Farrow with the fourth annual Equity in Entertainment Award, first announcing the launch of new organization Lift Our Voices, along with fellow former Fox News contributor Julie Roginsky, to end the practice of mandatory NDAs. Carlson said of Farrow, “We have a certain kinship as fellow journalists who have fought to expose injustices that ended up changing our industry and the world.”
Accepting his honor, Farrow thanked the women who have been sources in his stories and cited his mother Mia and sister Dylan as women who “faced the same system that protects powerful and dangerous men, and in so many ways, my mom was so alone in that fight. And how good to know that now, however much more work there is to do, however much change is yet to come, fewer women have to face these fights alone.”
Stacey Abrams, this year’s keynote speaker, then entered to another standing ovation and addressed the room, reflecting on her childhood and the importance of storytelling and saying the female leaders in Hollywood “have leveraged your space to highlight our complexity, our strength, our capacity for greatness and for redemption. When I ran for governor, I was told that to be successful, I had to change my look, hide my past mistakes and use smaller words. I’m sure far too many women in this room can relate — being told that who we are is not enough to be what we imagined.”
Charlize Theron was on hand to present $1.6 million in college scholarships to the 40 high school girls in THR‘s Women in Entertainment Mentorship Program, in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles and the Entertainment Industry Foundation. The 2020 mentorship class, comprised of Los Angeles teens from underserved classes, each received a $10,000 scholarship to attend the university of her choice and was given an Apple laptop as a gift from the Wasserman Foundation.
Theron also announced that Katzenberg and his wife Marilyn had created a $10,000 scholarship fund, giving every girl in the program access to aid for books, tuition and travel. Kalis and Katherine, alums of the mentorship program, joined the Bombshell star onstage to reveal that in honor of Theron, the Entertainment Industry Foundation would be awarding one mentee $25,000 for her studies.
For the first time in the mentorship program’s 10-year history, three scholarships were given out for $250,000 each — the first, the Chuck Lorre Family Foundation Scholarship, went to Katherine, followed by a full-ride LMU Netflix scholarship awarded to Lianne and a $100,000 scholarship given to Priscilla for the college of her choice, presented by Kaling, who said that the emotion from the morning had her “weeping in her quiche.”
CAA’s Bryan Lourd announced a new scholarship in Carrie Fisher’s name after saying he attended the Women in Entertainment event last year and was inspired to get involved. Lourd, Fisher’s former partner and the father of actress Billie Lourd, spoke in the late star’s honor before awarding the scholarship to Natalie. Lansing then took the stage to award a new scholarship in her name, giving a shout-out to Witherspoon as “my icon,” before giving the award to mentee Breanna.
Theron then brought up John Legend and Maggie Rogers, and the two musicians presented the first-time $100,000 Spotify scholarship, awarded to Trinity, and a $100,000 scholarship from Shark Tank star Lori Greiner, writer Melissa Blake and attorney Nina Shaw, titled The Angels Scholarship, given to Samantha. The awards brought the program’s total to $9.4 million in scholarship money since its inception in 2009.
As the mentees returned to their seats, Theron told them “you are the change that we so desperately need. Go out there, kick ass and take names,” as Kerry Washington came onstage to present her Little Fires Everywhere co-star Witherspoon with the Sherry Lansing honor, but first turned her attention to the mentee table as well.
“The path that you’re going to walk, I guarantee you that you’re going to continue to be in rooms that overwhelm you … rooms where you feel like you don’t belong or where you’re not sure what to say and you want to apologize for your accent or your upbringing,” Washington said to the girls. “I just want to remind you that that feeling is a sign that you’re growing in the right direction.”
Embracing Washington, Witherspoon reflected on the early days of her career when she would try to land roles and a certain studio executive would always reject her casting. Her agent told her that it was because “’that exec thinks you are Tracy Flick [from the 1999 movie Election]. He thinks you’re a shrew.’ I’ll never forget that because he used the word ‘shrew’ and it sounded Shakespearean and important. By the way, the definition of ‘shrew’ as pertains to a woman is technically ‘a woman of violent temper and speech.’ Which nowadays I understand to be a woman who speaks her mind and raises her voice against a system which underestimates her. So to that characterization I now say, ‘Thank you. I am a shrew.’ Does anyone else here feel like they’re a shrew? Raise your hand — I knew I liked you people!”
Witherspoon also spoke about her path from actress to superproducer, where for the first part of her career, “I was a follower,” she said. “I walked in the path that had been hard won and nicely paved by actual leaders.” But now in the second half, she said she has realized that through producing, “I know how to do this.”
The star turned her attention to the 40 mentees and offered advice in being a leader: “A lot of people can recognize a problem, admire it and complain about it, but not everybody will do something about it. Leaders are doers. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a leader, are hesitant or hypnotized by the voices that tell you ‘you can’t,’ if you’re not in a position to help someone — too bad, do it anyway. Be the one to say ‘hi’ first. Send the first email. Break the silence in a room. Ask the first question. Embrace your inner shrew and do something.”
Also in attendance were notable names such as Niecy Nash, Sophia Bush, Ginnifer Goodwin, Janet Mock, Bonnie Arnold, Chuck Lorre, Lorene Scafaria, Anna Paquin, Jill Soloway, Mary McCormack, Channing Dungey, Nina Shaw, Dawn Hudson and Abigail Spencer, among others.
The Women in Entertainment event was sponsored by Cadillac, Fiji Water, Moroccan Oil, eOne, Gersh, SAG-AFTRA, Loyola Marymount University in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles and the Entertainment Industry Foundation.