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The Hollywood Reporter’s annual Women in Entertainment event, now entering its second decade, looked a little different without its typical in-person Los Angeles celebration. This year it brought the star power to an hourlong Lifetime special on May 24.
Women in Entertainment: The Next Generation, a Voices Magnified Special, tied to THR’s annual Women in Entertainment Power 100 list, was hosted by Padma Lakshmi and saw at-home celebrity appearances from Elizabeth Olsen, Kathryn Hahn, Jurnee Smollett, Gillian Anderson, Emma Corrin, Lana Condor, Anitta and Anna Kendrick, as well as a performance from Girls5eva star Sara Bareilles. The special highlighted THR’s pioneering Women in Entertainment Mentorship Program, which, in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles, grants $1 million in scholarships to L.A. high school seniors from underserved communities. More than $10 million has been given away since the program’s inception, which matches teen girls with high-powered Hollywood women.
“It’s so important to see women of color, women of all kinds, represented in very powerful positions for you to be to dream about yourself pursuing those same positions,” said Smollett during the event, while Anderson added, “When we see a woman as a strong moral compass or who has a lot of compassion or who has a good work ethic, when we see women out there who represent those characteristics that we would like to aspire to it kind of helps to guide us in that direction.” For Kendrick, that mentor was her mother, who “was the breadwinner in our family and I think that affected me in a really wonderful way.”
Each mentee, 18 in total, receives a $10,000 college scholarship from Lifetime. Additionally, four full-ride scholarships to partner universities Chapman and Loyola Marymount were awarded courtesy of Sony (sending one student to LMU), Spotify (one to Chapman) and the Chuck Lorre Family Foundation (which sponsors two students, one to Chapman and one to LMU). Since 2016, The Chuck Lorre Family Foundation has donated nearly $1M, providing nine scholarships to graduates of the program.
Cadillac is the sponsor of Women in Entertainment. Additionally, the Wasserman Family Foundation donated new MacBook Airs to the latest class of mentees.
“Education equals choice, education equals widening your mind’s view of what is possible, and it helps equal the playing field,” said Hahn of the importance of these scholarships, as Olsen noted, “Education is everything, and if we don’t do that better for the children in this country, we have failed.” Added Corrin: “Education is the gateway to opportunity.”
Five mentor-mentee relationships were explored in the special: Ali Hoffman (president, domestic networks for Starz) and her mentee Emely; Cassidy Lange (director, original studio film, Netflix) and Gracie; Deborah Thomas (senior vp entertainment publicity for NBC) and Celine; Mioshi Jade Hill (president, Sirens Media) and Miranda; and Terry Kalagian (executive vp creative content, Gaumont) and Wynda, with the duos tackling pandemic setbacks, college applications and Hollywood dreams. Says mentee Gracie, “Throughout my high school career I knew filmmaking was my dream but I didn’t know exactly how to get there. I was sort of giving up so just having a mentor that can believe in me when I don’t believe in myself and Cassidy has been all of that exactly.”
Sherry Lansing, co-founder of the program, also made an appearance.
Condor offered support as a young person coming up in the industry, saying, “I’m starting to produce some of my own things and I oftentimes feel really scared that my voice doesn’t matter but I’m like, ‘No it really does! I just have to be brave,'” which was echoed as Bareilles closed with a performance of her hit song “Brave.”
“It really matters to me that young women who feel invisible have a safe space within the world that I create for them,” Bareilles said. “I will always tell them they’re powerful, that they’re intelligent, that they’re strong, that they’re beautiful exactly as they are. That’s the fire in my engine.”
Women in Entertainment, which has counted Lifetime as a partner since its start, is part of a big push by the network for diversity and inclusion. One major initiative, Broader Focus, is dedicated to supporting and hiring female directors, writers and producers. In 2019, 82 percent of Lifetime’s films were written by women, with 78 percent female directors and 67 percent female EPs; 75 percent of its series were exec produced by women. The network has also served as a directing launching pad for Patty Jenkins and Eva Longoria, among others, and has also collaborated with Jennifer Aniston, Angela Bassett and Laura Dern on directorial projects.
“We’re a brand that is a voice for women and because of that we have to walk the walk,” says Paul Buccieri, president and chairman of A+E Networks Group. “It’s great to extend the brand in that way beyond our on-air. These people that work on all these movies go off and are really, really additive to the whole creative community.”
Adds Karen Gray, head of the network’s diversity initiatives, “In something like this, which is helping women in underserved communities find a stronger path to college and in the entertainment industry is something that is right up our alley, and in line with everything else we’ve been doing. There’s also industry selfishness because we need more diverse voices — we’re all talking about this and to groom these incredible women with these interesting stories brings these needed diverse voices into the industry down the road, which I think will just result in better content.”
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