On Super Bowl Sunday, Jane Fonda led a team of women (and men) seeking a big win for gender equality.
The veteran actress hosted a comedy show in New York to support the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, which would provide a constitutional guarantee against discrimination on the basis of sex. At Caroline’s on Broadway, Fonda was joined by Gloria Steinem, Christine Lahti, Rosie O’Donnell, Judah Friedlander, Sasheer Zamata and Wyatt Cenac, among others, with O’Donnell, Friedlander, Zamata and Cenac all performing comedy sets.
Before the show, Fonda talked with The Hollywood Reporter about the issue of gender equality in Hollywood, noting that there are different ways in which women need to be better represented in the entertainment industry.
“We have to fight for pay equality and we have to get more women hired in front of and behind the camera and in decision-making positions,” she said, adding that a more diverse group of people voting on the Oscar nominees is also needed.
“We need more people of color and women to vote on the Oscars because it’s mostly older, white men, and they’re not bad men. They’re not racist or sexist necessarily but they just don’t always get [things] like Straight Outta Compton or something like that. We just need new, younger people of color and women to vote,” Fonda said.
Following the outcry over this year’s lack of nonwhite Oscar nominees, the Motion Picture Academy has already unveiled a number of reforms to diversify its membership.
As for the evening ahead, Fonda said she hoped that by laughing, people would be able to recognize things within themselves that they hadn’t before.
“When you’re laughing your guard is down and things that you may have been scared of or have been censored will rise up in you,” she said. Indeed, that’s what happened to her, she explained, recounting onstage that while she has considered herself to be a feminist for years, it was all in her head until at age 62 she saw the Vagina Monologues and as she was laughing “really hard,” she “changed.”
“I could feel it happening in my body and I know it was during the laughter part when my guard was down that my feminism dropped from my head and metabolized in my body and I’ve never gone back,” Fonda said.
She hoped that others would be similarly awakened on Sunday night: “Maybe tonight laughter will help that happen to those of you who, like me, take a while to get where you’re going.”
Steinem, who took the stage before Fonda, also took a moment to salute an “honorary woman,” Michael Moore, praising his new documentary Where to Invade Next, which hits theaters on Friday.
“He has made an amazing movie and in the process of him invading other countries to find what we should steal and imitate — the freedom for women, reproductive rights, equal rights amendment is prime among them,” Steinem said. “Go to see that movie. You will absolutely have ammunition forever more. It is a totally great movie.”
Fonda also referenced Where to Invade Next, saying that the film demonstrates how, “where there is constitutional equality [for women] … it’s shown time and time again that it not only benefits the women, it benefits their communities and the economic and physical well-being of the entire country. It’s a win-win.”
She added, “That’s why we’re here tonight. We’re building a new coalition to put the ERA in the constitution once and for all! And let’s just do it!”
O’Donnell — who devoted her set to jokes about her family and surviving a heart attack, and educated the audience on women’s heart attack symptoms — took a minute at the end to salute Steinem and Fonda and urge support for the ERA.
“Gloria Steinem, I don’t even have the words. Jane Fonda, I have even less,” she said. “To be here with them is a trippy, trippy thing for a girl from Exit 52 on … Long Island. ERA all the way!”
While O’Donnell didn’t mention Donald Trump, despite her past feuds with the real estate mogul-turned-presidential candidate, both Steinem and Friedlander did.
Steinem noted it would be tough to be funny amid the spectacle of Trump.
“It’s hard to surpass. And I hope there will soon be a group of rich people to explain that he’s disgracing the name of rich people. He’s not really a successful businessman. He’s a successful con artist,” she said. “Can you surpass that for surrealism and humor? It’s very, very difficult.”
Meanwhile Friedlander offered a way of dealing with Trump, inspired by one of the Republican presidential candidate’s most famous proposals.
“I think we should build a wall, around Donald Trump,” he joked. “Put mirrors on the inside, that way he’s happy, and I think when Mexico hears about this, they’ll be like, ‘We’d like to pay for this.’ “