Tina Fey, Megyn Kelly Talk Female Empowerment in the Trump Era at THR's Women in Entertainment Event
Ryan Murphy, Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange, Emma Stone, Simone Biles and Jon Hamm also spoke at the annual star-studded event at Milk Studios on Wednesday.
Many of the most powerful women (and men) in the entertainment industry descended upon Milk Studios in Los Angeles on Wednesday to celebrate The Hollywood Reporter's Power 100 at the 25th annual THR Women in Entertainment breakfast presented by Lifetime.
Tina Fey received THR's prestigious Sherry Lansing Leadership Award, which honors a woman who is a pioneer and a leader in her field, while Ryan Murphy was presented with the inaugural Equity in Entertainment Award.
The breakfast came nearly a month to the day since Hillary Clinton's historic bid to become the first female president of the United States came to an end Nov. 9 when she was defeated by Donald Trump. The event took on a somber but resilient tone as many who took the podium directly addressed the outcome of the divisive election and tried to look ahead.
Fittingly, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, one of the breakouts of the 2016 election cycle and also featured on THR's Women in Entertainment list, was among the first to take the stage. She was introduced by The Hollywood Reporter-Billboard Media Group president and chief creative officer Janice Min and The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard executive vp/group publisher Lynne Segall.
In addition to discussing the past year of turmoil at Fox News and being a part of the "underground army" that brought down a "serial sexual harasser," Kelly highlighted several fellow female breakouts from the past election, including Carly Fiorina, NBC correspondent Katy Tur, first lady-elect Melania Trump, First Lady Michelle Obama and Clinton.
"The past year has convinced me that our charge as women is to lead by example. To be our most internally powerful, inspirational, amazing selves, so that others around us see what a 'woman' really 'is.' Especially when tough times hit," Kelly said. She urged woman to "go big," or "we can go ... less big, like not letting ourselves be interrupted at the table" — seemingly a subtle nod to the president-elect.
"As for Donald Trump, I have high hopes for him. Despite the tweets and all the rest of it, there is much to admire about Donald Trump," Kelly said, which elicited boos from some in the crowd. However, Kelly pressed on with her statement. "There is much to admire about him, and I think the more we understand that and understand why he won this election, the better off we'll be as a country and understand each other."
She continued: "We should appeal to his best angels … and hold him to account when the little devils appear. When and if the dark forces rear their heads, we must maintain our dignity. Reject the urge to fight with pigs — which gets us dirty and the pigs enjoy. But if a fight is unavoidable, then fight ... with composure and grace."
Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange, who star together in Murphy's FX anthology drama Feud, next took the stage to introduce the prolific producer. Through his shows, which also include American Horror Story, American Crime Story and Scream Queens, "he is showing the industry how to discover diverse points of view," Sarandon said.
Murphy was honored specifically for Half, the foundation he launched in February to give more opportunities to women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community behind the camera. Now, less than a year later, more than 50 percent of the directors on his various projects are female. "Let’s hope, through his example, in support of that goal, we’re all just getting started," said Lange.
Murphy's speech included alarming statistics about the lack of female directors in Hollywood. While females represent 52 percent of the population and 65 percent of what television to watch is made by females, working female directors represent only 15 percent to 17 percent of the industry.
"There is no Machavillian plot at work. It has been just pure laziness and economic buck passing," said Murphy. "That’s what makes the problem even more infuriating — it’s more apathy and a belief that others will fix the problem that are the corporal enemies here."
The way to combat that? "Speak up," said Murphy. He urged those in the industry to specifically bring new people and new voices into the conversation. "Hire people who don’t look like you, or share your point of view," he continued.
"I think a lot of us in this room -— who were so impacted by the election and the true but cruel results rooted hugely in misogyny — woke up the next day afraid and confused. I was. What could we do? Some of us have decided to keep making art and entertainment — I’m doing Feud not just because of the larger-than-life characters, but because it directly confronts ageism, sexism, female pay scale inadequacies, the glass ceiling, etc. It’s a show that asks for and demands rebellion," said Murphy, who received a standing ovation.
Sherry Lansing, there to introduce THR's Women in Entertainment Mentoring Program, first took a moment to praise Fey. Among other things, Lansing thanked Fey for her "incredibly intelligent humor, which we all need now more than ever."
Lansing pushed women to work together, "if we come together, our voices can and will be heard," she said, pointing specifically to the Women in Entertainment Mentoring Program, which is a partnership in cooperation with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles. The program, now in its seventh year, presents scholarship awards to 16 girls from underserved areas, pairing them with leading figures from the entertainment industry.
Oscar nominee Emma Stone and five-time Olympic medalist Simone Biles presented this year's scholarship awards, giving three of the 16 mentees a full, four-year ride to Loyola Marymount University, valued at nearly $250,000.
The first scholarship, from Laura Lizer, Don Johnson and Chris Savino's new production and financing company, 1 – 2 – 3 Go Entertainment, went to Laura B. Prolific producer Chuck Lorre, through his Chuck Lorre Family Foundation Scholarship, awarded two scholarships, to Liliana M. and Delia C. The Entertainment Industry Foundation and Lifetime are funding the grants — which provide each mentee with $10,000 to be used at the college of her choice.
Jon Hamm then took the stage to introduce his 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt collaborator Fey. The actor listed Fey's long list of accomplishments, which also include Mean Girls — greenlighted by then Paramount head Lansing herself — and the New York Times best-seller Bossypants. "Most impressively to me, Tina is a role model for young women across the country, inspiring them to throw away their educations and take improv classes. A grateful nation thanks you," he deadpanned.
Fey also began by thanking Lansing for "allowing me to tarnish her good name by receiving this award" and for giving Fey her "first big break in the movies" with 2004's Mean Girls. Reflecting on the recent election, she spoke at length how everyone could take inspiration from Lansing's career.
"I have been thinking over the last month, how can we proceed with dignity in these increasingly ugly times. And it occurs to me that Sherry is the perfect role model. Talk about someone who remained graceful and effective in what must have been an incredibly misogynistic environment," said Fey. "And yet she was able to flourish and lead, with all her humanity and femaleness intact. Maybe we can all make that our mantra over the next four years: 'What Would Sherry Lansing Do?'"
But for all of her talk about the election — the reason Hillary lost? "Not enough celebrity music videos urging people to vote," joked Fey — the nine-time Emmy winner also opened up about her tenure thus far in Hollywood. Both the tough aspects (aging) and the positives, such as a Hollywood that has more roles for female actresses like Fey and many of her former female Saturday Night Live colleagues whom she mentioned.
"We don’t need approval in the same way. We’re adults now and we know who we are and what we’re good at, and I think we’re really starting to ask ourselves, 'What is next for me? What is my role in this business gonna be once nobody wants to grab me by the pussy anymore?'" Fey said in another veiled reference to Trump.
"First, there’s a lot of reassurance that everyone’s pussy is still very grabbable. And there’s a little bit of loose talk of giving it all up and making pottery in Mexico, but I know these women, and what I think we will see will be some producing, some directing and mentoring of young talent."
Fey ended by making her own commitment to keep "giving women jobs" in Hollywood. "What are my goals as a 'Powerful Woman in Hollywood'? I want to keep making things," she said. "I want to keep telling stories, mostly about women and girls."
The Women in Entertainment breakfast presented by Lifetime also was sponsored by American Airlines, Mercedes-Benz, THE OUTNET.COM, SAG-AFTRA, Gersh and Loyola Marymount University and in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles and the Entertainment Industry Foundation. Event attendees included many women from the Power 100 list, such as NBC Entertainment's Jennifer Salke, NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Group's Bonnie Hammer and THR's Women in Entertainment executive of the year Shari Redstone. Other guests included Shiri Appleby, Eva Longoria, Felicity Huffman, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Lea Michele, Rita Wilson and Constance Zimmer.
The event coincides with the publication of THR's Women in Entertainment Issue, which recognizes the 100 most powerful women in entertainment. Past recipients of the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award have included Barbra Streisand, Shonda Rhimes, Oprah Winfrey, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, Jodie Foster, Halle Berry, Glenn Close and Barbara Walters.