Hollywood Reporter's Power Lawyers Breakfast Goes Virtual as Sherrilyn Ifill Delivers Keynote, Ted Sarandos Honors Netflix's David Hyman

Power Lawyers Keynote Q&A
The Hollywood Reporter

The Hollywood Reporter's 14th annual Power Lawyers breakfast was one of countless spring events that was postponed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, but the entertainment industry's top attorneys finally got together in a virtual celebration Wednesday.

This year's event, which also celebrated THR's inaugural group of New York Power Lawyers, featured a compelling keynote conversation between NAACP Legal and Educational Defense Fund president and director-counsel Sherrilyn Ifill and Jemele Hill, Atlantic contributor and host of the Jemele Hill Is Unbothered podcast. The two discussed everything from what voter suppression looks like in 2020 to what Hollywood can do in the fight for racial justice.

“When I was a little girl, I wanted to be in the civil rights movement so badly. It had already happened. I missed it,” Ifill recalled, before continuing to say that she now finds herself in a modern equivalent. “I do feel privileged to be in this fight, and I feel absolutely certain that the investments that we’re making today in freedom, in democracy, in the full dignity and citizenship of Black people will reap a harvest for maybe people we will not ever meet in the future. … That gives me goosebumps. I just get excited every day about the opportunity to do that in any small way that I can.”

The event, which is typically held at Spago in Beverly Hills, was hosted by THR editorial director Nekesa Mumbi Moody, who welcomed attendees (and reminded them it isn't too late to get their hands on the coveted Power Lawyer coffee mugs) before turning things over to Russell Goldsmith, chairman of City National Bank and RBC U.S. Wealth Management.

Moody also announced that Ifill's work inspired the news outlet and bank to take action. "We are going to put our money where our mouth is," she said. "I'm so pleased to say that, on behalf of THR and City National Bank, we will be making a donation to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund."

Goldsmith, who began his speech by noting that he was once an entertainment lawyer himself, also lauded the LDF's work. He said the country is facing multiple "seismic" challenges, including the pandemic, the current economic and climate crises, and the widespread calls for racial equality and social justice. His remarks were largely centered on the economy, including the current widespread unemployment and underemployment. "We need an additional federal program that modernizes our nation's infrastructure, supports our manufacturing industries, helps state and local governments pay for health care workers and facilities, first responders and schools, and fosters the creation of good jobs by the private sector," said Goldsmith, who added that entertainment and media companies can also make an impact. "As key advisers and leaders in these industries, you can and will make a positive difference in the turbulent months ahead."

Goldsmith then introduced Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos, who presented THR's Raising the Bar award to the streamer's general counsel David Hyman.

"David is pragmatic and he's fearless," said Sarandos, who complimented Hyman for building a legal team of 700 of the best and the brightest in the industry and then "getting out of their way." The exec also says Netflix's lead lawyer, who's notorious for wearing baseball caps in meetings, has been instrumental in shaping the company's response to the pandemic from "working with ISPs around the world to reduce web traffic when governments imposed shelter in place orders and were trying to free up bandwidth on the internet, or the creation of a $150 million hardship fund to support the creative community that found themselves out of work, or creating the standards for safe return to production."

Hyman began his virtual acceptance speech by acknowledging that it mirrors how "bizarre" this year has been and thanking his colleagues for their hard work and personal sacrifices. "You have got us back to producing stories and helping bring some much-needed joy and distraction to the world," he said, adding that the quickly changing media landscape also continues to create challenges. "The role of lawyers, and all the folks on my team, both in driving innovation, policy and deals will remain critical to helping develop our business and, importantly, helping more and more people see themselves and their stories onscreen while at the same time, helping drive broad representation behind the camera as well."

Watch the full video from the 14th annual celebration below.