Viola Davis and Nina Jacobson Honored at Hollywood Reporter's Empowering Women in Entertainment Event

Awkwafina, Steve McQueen, Brian Tyree Henry, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ryan Coogler and Mandy Moore were among those on hand to toast the honorees.

Hollywood's wonder women gathered Wednesday morning at Milk Studios to celebrate The Hollywood Reporter's Power 100 at the annual THR Women in Entertainment event, presented by Lifetime.

While it was drizzling on the red carpet, stars such as Brian Tyree Henry, Diane Warren and Mandy Moore sipped on green juice and coffee with Power List honorees Bonnie Hammer, Jennifer Salke and the executive of the year Dana Walden ahead of the VIP event that coincides with the publication of THR’s annual Women in Entertainment: Power 100, the definitive guide to the leading women in film and television. 

As guests like Widows director Steve McQueen and Gugu Mbatha-Raw enjoyed frittatas and various gluten-free pastries, Nanette comedian Hannah Gadsby opened the morning, saying, "There is nothing a comedian aspires to more than a breakfast gig." She took her time to critique the power structure that led to the current state of Hollywood. "My issue is when good men talk about bad men, they always ignore the line in the sand," she said. "Only good men get to draw that line, and all men believe they are good men. Guess what happens when all men get to draw that line — this world. The world where men do very bad things and believe in heart of hearts they are good because they haven't crossed the line. Because they moved the line for their own good. Women should be in control of that line, no question."

Lynne Segall, THR executive vp and group publisher, stood at the podium to offer congratulations to the Power 100 and thank the event's sponsors — American Airlines, Cadillac, Fiji Water, eOne, Loyola Marymount University and SAG-AFTRA, as well as The Gersh Agency. THR editorial director Matthew Belloni offered his own thanks, adding, "This was our largest and most ambitious issue we have ever done for the Women in Entertainment issue at the Hollywood Reporter."

Belloni presented Lena Dunham with a framed cover of this year's Women in Entertainment issue, featuring cover star Viola Davis. Dunham, the publication's second annual Women in Entertainment guest editor, took the opportunity to say how she had personally grown from publicly denying the sexual assault allegations that were leveled against her Girls colleague Murray Miller by actress Aurora Perrineau. Dunham stood next to Perrineau's mother Brittany and said, "I learned to listen. I learned the ways in which my own heart and mind had been colonized by patriarchy, and the ways my own ignorance operated even as a survivor of multiple sexual assaults. Brittany taught me that at 32 years old, it’s time to embrace the real shit and put my big girl pants on." Brittany chose to go off script and offered her own thoughts on the subject, saying, "Forgiveness is a powerful thing, and we need to redirect our anger at the perpetrators of these heinous assaults."

Dunham then introduced the next speaker, Monica Lewinsky, as "a woman who rises again and again, who refuses to allow labels and preconceptions to prevent her from using her big beautiful voice."

Lewinsky offered her words of wisdom to the Women in Entertainment Mentorship Program class of 2019, saying that they should not fear failure. "Mistakes can give you the chance to become a stronger woman, to become a more resilient and expanded self," said the anti-bullying activist. "I am so excited to see where all of you go in life. And when that mistake eventually knocks on your door, I hope you’ll think back to today, and remember that everyone in this room is rooting for you."

Singer-songwriter Kesha introduced the mentorship class of 2019 — 22 girls who were greeted with roaring applause and standing ovation. They each received a surprise gift: Apple laptops presented to them by the Wasserman Foundation. Scholarships were awarded to Los Angeles teens from underserved communities who are currently taking part in the Women in Entertainment Mentorship Program, in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles and Entertainment Industry Foundation. Each of the 18 girls finishing her mentorship year this year will receive a $10,000 scholarship to attend the university of her choice, with six girls receiving full-ride scholarships worth more than $250,000 apiece to attend Loyola Marymount University, a longtime partner in the program. Since the program's inception, more than $6 million in scholarship money has been raised. The breakfast doled out nearly $1.8 million to the mentees.

Additional full-ride scholarships were given out to select students. The Lori Greiner scholarship was awarded to Emily, while two Chuck Lorre scholarships were given to Zyrah and Veronica. The recipient of the inaugural Lionsgate scholarship was Yessenia, while Denise took home the Twitter scholarship.

Black Panther stars Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong'o and Chadwick Boseman were on hand to present a new initiative from THR, The Young Executives Fellowship. The program, a diversity initiative in partnership with Amazon Studios and WME, is meant to create an inclusive pipeline for a class of future leaders. Each year, 25 students from underserved L.A. schools will be selected for the two-year program and will receive hands-on group learning at major studios, networks and agencies. The fellowship will be overseen by an advisory board including such entertainment, business and community leaders as Martin Luther King III, Eric Garcetti, Jennifer Salke and Ari Emanuel, among others.

"Black Panther has shown the world how much you can achieve when you make stories not just for one group of people but for every group," said Nyong'o. The Black Panther trio announced that the recipient of the Black Panther Scholarship, sponsored by Walt Disney Studios, would be Kalis, who did the Wakanda salute to the stars as she joined them onstage.

Awkwafina presented Crazy Rich Asians producer Nina Jacobson with the third annual Equity in Entertainment. "Nina Jacobson is the hero that we need right now — and I don’t use that word lightly," she said. "To be a hero means to be admired for courage, outstanding achievement and noble qualities. Nina has built an incredibly successful career in an alarmingly male dominated profession, fighting relentlessly to give traditionally silenced groups a voice." 

Accepted the honor, the Color Force chief began by saying, "I have to admit that I feel a little sheepish receiving an award just for exercising common sense." Jacobson continued: "When we see not just ourselves but people who are different from us onscreen, we are reminded of who we are and what we share. When we hear and see each other, we win."

To wrap up the awards ceremony, Sherry Lansing presented the day's final honoree, Davis, with the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award. "The worst demon of all is a lack of purpose," said the actress in her acceptance. "You do not have to know what’s in the hearts of people to be a leader, but by God do you have to know what is in the heart of leaders. And what is in my heart is: I cannot lead with bullshit." Added the Oscar winner, "I think there is something to be said about being wild."

"Don’t let anybody tell you who you are," Davis proclaimed while speaking of leading an authentic life. Before leaving the stage, she concluded: "This is my fist pump. This is my drop the mic. This is me."

As guests such as Yalitza Aparicio, Susan Kelechi Watson and Janet Mock filed out, Lewinsky caught up with Warner Bros.' Dee Dee Myers (former press secretary to Bill Clinton) and the mentees flocked to the stage for selfies as one attendee was overheard saying, "I wish I had more tissues."