Reese Witherspoon Gives Glamour Awards Speech: Female-Driven Films "Are Not a Public Service Project"

Reese Witherspoon Goldie Hawn Glamour H 2015
Larry Busacca/Staff

Reese Witherspoon Goldie Hawn Glamour H 2015

Viola Davis, Selena Gomez and Amy Schumer hit Carnegie Hall to honor Caitlyn Jenner, Misty Copeland and Victoria Beckham.

When reading scripts, Reese Witherspoon can't stand the sight of one particular line: "In the time of crisis, the woman turns to the man and asks him, 'What are we gonna do now?!'"

The actress and producer said in her speech at Glamour's Women of the Year Awards that such a line appears often when female characters aren't created by women, instead boiled down to being helpless beings. "Have you ever met a woman in crisis who doesn't know what to do?" she said to applause, also highlighting that women with ambition are viewed negatively. "Why do people have prejudiced opinions against women who want to accomplish things? Why is that perceived as a negative? ... Like [Legally Blonde's] Elle Woods, I did not like to be underestimated."

She then explained that she founded her production company, Pacific Standard, to help create more films featuring female authors and leads. The company's upcoming releases include adaptations of best-sellers Big Little Lies and Luckiest Girl Alive, plus dozens of films as well as TV shows in development, featuring characters who are "bold and haunted and dangerous and triumphant, like the real women in our lives."

"Female-driven films work," she stressed, noting the cumulative worldwide grosses of her films Gone Girl and Wild totaled over $420 million. "Films with women at the center are not a public service project, they are a big-time, bottom line-enhancing, money-making commodity."

Witherspoon also said to the night's honorees, "I hope, Amy Schumer — and all the other incredible nominees — that you'll give me the rights to your biopic first. Although, Amy, I'm five years older than you, so I'll probably have to play your grandmother in the movie, by Hollywood standards, and you'll probably have to play your own mother." Plus, "every woman I've ever played is passionate strong and flawed, except for [Election's] Tracy Flick because she was a hundred percent perfect — and she made me say that." (Read her full speech here.)

Witherspoon received the honor from Goldie Hawn, who noted the effectiveness of her #AskHerMore initiative, pushing media to interview actresses about more than their evening's outfits: "As we were walking down the red carpet, they weren't asking stupid questions — thank you!"

Caitlyn Jenner delivered a humorous yet humble speech upon receiving the honor from Transparent actress Judith Light. "Getting up those stairs in this dress is more difficult than hurdling! ... I never thought I'd be here and I'm sure you didn't either," she said, amid recounting how life before her transition was one of isolation and lying to herself about who she truly is. "Maybe [I] can make a difference in the world — what a great opportunity in life to have."

Madeleine Albright, Caitlyn Jenner and Judith Light at the Rainbow Room

She added that after being jabbed repeatedly by the tabloids, when her Vanity Fair cover debuted, "Boy did the conversation change! No longer can the media say bad things about you because then they'd be homophobic." She now feels her transition is complete: "I haven't been on airlines in over a year because I didn't have [proper] identification, but last week, I got my driver's license: picture and gender marker 'F.'"

And South Carolina native Viola Davis honored five family members of the victims of the Charleston Church tragedy, who loudly forgave the shooter and started the Hate Won't Win movement. "I cannot imagine their pain, but neither could I imagine their strength," said Davis of the women, who came onstage to a standing ovation. "This is America at its best."

"Racism is taught — learn to respect each other despite the color of our skin. We need to learn to love, not hate. It's love that binds us all, and hate that divides us all," said Felicia Sanders with Alana Simmons, adding that being different "doesn't give anyone the right to discriminate against us, to bully us or to murder us."

Bethane Middleton-Brown, Nadine Collier, Viola Davis, Polly Sheppard, Felicia Sanders and Alana Simmons

Also at Carnegie Hall on Monday night, breakthrough ballet dancer Misty Copeland accepted the night's award from Lupita Nyong'o, as well as Victoria Beckham from her son Brooklyn Beckham and Carolyn Murphy. Theranos CEO and youngest self-made female billionaire Elizabeth Holmes, who encouraged young women to pursue science, math and engineering in her speech, was humorously called both "a classic underachiever" and "the only person I know who makes me feel like a lazy bastard" by a pink-haired Jared Leto, who took to the mic to say, "It's time for equal pay, time for equal opportunity … and quite possibly time for a woman in the White House."

Elizabeth Holmes and Jared Leto

Seth Meyers presented the award at large to the U.S. women's national soccer team, and Uzo Aduba, Elisabeth Moss and Eve Hewson honored Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards, who said, "No mother wants her daughter to have fewer rights than she did, so it's up to us."

Throughout the evening, Amy Schumer delivered the laughs with a short set, Ellie Goulding fronted an orchestral rendition of "Anything Can Happen" and Jennifer Hudson performed "Too Beautiful for Words" from the upcoming Broadway revival of The Color Purple, with co-stars Danielle Brooks and Cynthia Erivo in the audience. Selena Gomez also introduced Madeleine Albright, Samantha Power, Iman, Liya Kebede, Billie Jean King and Serena Williams, who advised the evening's younger attendees.

Selena Gomez, Madeleine Albright, Samantha Power, ImanLiya Kebede, Billie Jean King and Serena Williams