Women in Film, with Max Mara as presenting sponsor, celebrated its 50th anniversary — and work through the years of advancing equality in the screen industries — on Thursday night at the Ray Dolby Ballroom in Hollywood.
Women have come a long way but still have much to go, said actor and comedian Lily Tomlin — a sentiment echoed by many in the room.
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“Things have definitely gotten better in the past 50 years,” said Tomlin, who was WIF’s very first honoree a half-century ago. She recounted the groundbreaking article that made WIF possible, a piece written in 1973 by her friend Sue Cameron — one of the original cofounders of WIF, a writer, reporter and longtime columnist for The Hollywood Reporter. Cameron had exposed that only 2 percent of TV shows were written by women that year, which led to the creation of WIF.
“Since Sue wrote that watershed article for The Hollywood Reporter, now over 20 percent of female TV writers are women of color,” Tomlin continued. “And the total number of TV episodes written by women has gone from 2 to 50 percent. Also, this year we have to acknowledge the ‘Barbie’ movie, written and directed by a woman, starring women — the highest grossing film of 2023 in the U.S. and worldwide.”
After applause, she exclaimed, “And they couldn’t say ‘Barbie’ succeeded by sleeping her way to the top. She did not even have a vagina!”
Tomlin brought the biggest laughs of the night before introducing fellow actor and longtime collaborator Jane Fonda, who came out to present the Jane Fonda Humanitarian Award — established in 1979 and named after Fonda in 2021. This year it went to America Ferrera.
“To act is to put on a performance but to be an activist is to perform in service of the world,” said Fonda. “It’s hard to imagine a more perfect recipient of this recognition.”
Ferrera rose to fame starring in “Real Women Have Curves,” the 2002 film depicting a first generation Mexican-American teen and her journey to womanhood, before making a splash in ABC’s comedy-drama “Ugly Betty” and, most recently, in “Barbie.”
“It’s so rare that you get to thank the people, the legends who literally blazed the trails that you were so privileged to walk upon,” said Ferrera when she took the stage. “Jane Fonda, I know I speak on behalf of so many women in this industry when I say how grateful we are to you for modeling the courage that we aspire to embody.”
The evening featured talks with honorees Eva Longoria and Linda Yvette Chávez, who received the Crystal Award for Advocacy, recognizing their film “Flamin’ Hot,” the biographical comedy-drama directed by Longoria in her feature directorial debut and written by Chávez. The award also went to writer-director Celine Song and actor Greta Lee, who discussed their experience making “Past Lives” — winner of best feature film at the recent Gotham Awards. The trophy honors “outstanding individuals creating increased opportunities for the advancement of women.”
WIF also honors a young woman every year in partnership with Max Mara, an actress “embodying style and grace” who’s experiencing a turning point in her career while contributing to the community at large. The WIF Max Mara Face of the Future Award went to Yara Sayeh Shahidi, the 23-year-old actor, producer, activist and recent Harvard University graduate. A child actress, she rose to fame on ABC sitcom “Black-ish” and its spin-off series “Grown-ish.”
“It really isn’t lost on me that I’m being honored by the very community that has created space for me to blossom and do the work that I so love,” Shahidi said. “The impact of Women in Film and the generations of women and changemakers who sought to not only pursue a career in television and film landscapes, but to also carry forward the need and demand for an equitable industry…has allowed me the dream of chasing my purpose and to become a multifaceted artist in every sense of the word. Because of the work you all have done, my most impactful times on set have been surrounded by empowered women in every department and every executive level. I’m grateful that I got to come into the industry and challenge the norm.”
Launch Gallery: Inside the Women in Film Honors Presented By Max Mara
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