PGA Award Winners Continue Call for Gender Equality, Diversity in Hollywood

Ava DuVernay at PGA Awards - H 2018 Getty
Frazer Harrison/gettyimages

Ryan Murphy, Jordan Peele and Ava DuVernay were among the honorees at Saturday’s annual gala in Beverly Hills.

Ryan Murphy admits that getting started in Hollywood in the late 1990s wasn’t easy.

“I was told not to follow my instinct — to be someone else,” he said at Saturday night’s PGA Awards at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, where he was honored with the Norman Lear Achievement Award in Television.

“I was 'too weird.' I was 'too odd.' I was 'too unusual'. My mannerisms and my voice were mocked by executives in notes meetings," recalled Murphy. "It was painful to be discriminated against and not liked because of who I was and what I wanted to do, which was very simple. The only thing I wanted to do was to see myself and my experiences as an American on television.”

Fast-forward to 2018. His company employs 40,000 people at any one time. Murphy also launched the Half initiative in 2016 with the aim of having 50 percent of all director slots on his shows be women.

“In one year, we exceeded that basic goal and then some,” he beamed. “Sixty percent of all the director slots are now filled by women. This year, over 750 women have applied for 40 slots in the Half initiative, which is a number that expressly tells us that we have a huge amount of people who want to be a part of this business and change it but do not have a way in. We need to help them.”

And then there’s Pose, his upcoming FX series about New York in the 1980s, which has the largest LGBT cast in the history of American television. “Many of the individuals on this show had no health care, they had no allies and they had nowhere to turn — but they do now,” Murphy said. “On this one day, I directed 60 trans women in a scene, and the great moment for me was when I had this awareness that I had somehow helped bring them into a culture, a community where they can heard and listened to and valued.”

Murphy certainly wasn’t the only award winner calling for more diversity.

Jordan Peele, whose film Get Out was given the Stanley Kramer Award, called out President Donald Trump during his remarks. “I’m hurt, and it feels like we are taking steps backwards in this country this year led by that racist man in the Oval Office,” he said. “But I am encouraged because finally unique voices are breaking through. The voices of the outsider are increasingly louder and more celebrated, and stories from and by those who have been marginalized are now being embraced.”

Reese Witherspoon presented her A Wrinkle in Time director Ava DuVernay with the Visionary Award. “I had never seen a set like that before — every color, every ethnicity, every degree of physical ability,” Witherspoon recalled about working on the upcoming fantasy pic. “Her set looked like the world we live in, a beautiful mosaic of humanity bringing their unique skills to our production. Our crew opened my eyes.”

Said DuVernay: “There’s a lot of talk right now about rights and wrongs in the industry and ideas like inclusion and diversity and harassment protocols being a good thing that one does because it's right. I just want to take a second to say, don’t do it because it’s the right thing to do. You do it because it’s the correcting of an era, it’s a pivot from prejudice. It’s not a trend — it’s a reality, a reality that our industry has betrayed in so many different ways over the decades. Not to think of diversity is a good thing to do, thinking of it as an absolute must, something that must be done.”

Both DuVernay and Langley remembered veteran producer Allison Shearmur, who died Friday at age 54 after a battle with lung cancer.

Leah Remini, whose Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath picked up the nonfiction television prize, said she never expected the series to resonate with so many people. She credited the many former Scientologists who have had the “courage” to appear on the show and speak out against “the Goliath that has been Scientology, an organization that uses its power and its money to try to intimidate and silence its critics.”

The gala had its fair share of lighter moments, as well.

Judd Apatow was on hand to present the Milestone Award to Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley. “I am doing this presentation because on Thursday, Universal Pictures called me and I was told Meryl Streep dropped out and they desperately needed someone to replace her,” he said. “Why did she drop out? I don’t know. It’s a mystery. She’s pissed about something. Mamma Mia residuals, something went wrong.”

Kumail Nanjiani joked about some of the original title ideas he had for The Big Sick, the autobiographical film that he and his wife Emily V. Gordon wrote about their relationship, which started shortly before she was stricken with a life-threatening illness.

“I wanted to call it Guess Who Coma to Dinner,” he said. “The producers said no, but I said it works on two levels as it has 'coma' in it and it’s multiracial … I pitched other names like You’ve Got Kumail. They said, ‘Why would we name it after you? Nobody knows who the fuck you are.’

The PGA also announced on Saturday night that the Wonder Woman sequel will be the first film to adopt its new set of anti-sexual harassment guidelines.

The awards gala was sponsored by Cadillac.