Variety‘s Power of Women Presented by Lifetime event on Thursday night was an intimate dinner with a big helping of inspiration for about 300 invitees from across the entertainment industry, who gathered under the stars on a once in a blue moon balmy night in Beverly Hills, CA.
The evening, for ‘We Rise,’ had plenty of star power thanks to the five honorees who were feted for their accomplishments and philanthropic endeavors. A big attraction for attendance was simply the chance to mix and mingle in an outdoor setting, the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. Variety enforced strict COVID protocols. This was afterall, Variety‘s first in-person event in more than 18 months. 18! It was refreshing to be back under the stars on a dreamy evening surrounded by messages of positivity and a brighter look towards our futures. during the course of the evening Katy Perry sang “What Makes a Woman.” Amanda Gorman recited “We Rise.” Lorde called for protection of the earth and indigenous peoples. Rita Moreno left us dazzled with her 89-year-young vitality. Truly a night for the books.
The mood was jubilant as guests began streaming in for the cocktail reception. We hadn’t worn heels in a year, and we’re still paying for it today. As attendees reunited, schmoozed and, yes, even hugged, an air of change hung about as reunions were had.
The presentation began with a surprise special appearance by Paxton Smith, the 18-year-old woman from Dallas who made headlines by speaking out against the disturbing anti-abortion legislation recently signed into law in Texas during her valedictory address at her high school graduation in June. Smith put the consequences of the law and its shocking enforcement provision — through civil lawsuits that can be filed by anyone against Texas residents who have an abortion — in stark relief. Her voice shook as she tried to express the urgency of this law for young women in her home state.
“If I become pregnant, a potentially life-changing decision to carry out that pregnancy has been taken out of my hands and put into the hands of a stranger,” Smith said. “At the belief systems of a stranger, at the will of a stranger, I could be forced to have a child — regardless of the impact it will have on the life that I have been working towards, the life that I will be the one to live through.”
Filmmaker Ava DuVernay was on hand to present the award to Dungey, the trailblazing executive whose many industry firsts include being the first Black woman to run a Big Four broadcast network and the first woman to serve as chairman of Warner Bros. TV Group. Ava DuVernay, who herself, got a big boost as a director by working on ABC’s Scandal when Dungey was a top executive, noted her friend and colleague’s accomplishments. She paused and asked the crowd to let it sink in. “Think of the steps, think of the rooms, think of the battles, think of what it took every day to step toward that goal,” she said.
Dungey is one of the most powerful executives in television, but she admitted to being overwhelmed at times when it comes to the problems of the world, even those in Hollywood’s backyard. Dungey’s Power of Women Focus Charity was Children’s Institute, which helps underprivileged kids throughout Los Angeles County.
Dungey told the crowd she finds great fulfillment in serving as a board member and getting involved in Children’s Institute programs.
“Sometimes the problems and challenges in this world can seem overwhelming, and that can make any of us feel powerless at times,” she concluded. “But remember, the word power means ‘to be able.’ We are all able to act,” Dungey said. “We are all able to lead. We are all able to inspire. We are all powerful. Use your power, and make a difference in this world.”
As the next honoree got to the stage, Rita Moreno struck a model’s pose that perfectly captured her octogenarian effervescence (she turns 90 on Dec. 11). Moreno, who put the focus on health care organization RotaCare Bay Area, recalled her childhood in New York and early struggles as a contract player in Hollywood, and compared them to the battles of the present-day at a time of deep cultural discord.
“My hope is that as more women, like the ones honored here tonight, gain positions of power and influence, they continue to keep the fires burning for those who aspire,” Moreno said. “We live in a time that requires us to be vigilant. As women, many issues require our attention in these dark days — when our leaders politicize the wearing of masks and polarize our citizens over vaccines; when in the mind of many, climate change is science fiction and healthcare is still not codified as a basic human right in a divided America.”
“None of us can take on the world by ourselves, but if there is one thing I am sure of in my 90 years, it is the power of a sisterhood of women working for change,” she concluded. “Life grows within us and we are its caretakers, we are heavily invested! I believe all women have the potential to bloom where they are planted.”
Katy Perry closed out the evening with an unexpected treat. She performed her 2020 song “What Makes a Woman,” accompanied on acoustic guitar and backing vocals by Devon Eisenbarger. Another surprise moment came when Perry called Bloom up to the stage from his table to help loosen the corset of her elaborate flowing gown. “It’s a little tight, I can’t sing.” But sing she did, and what vocals she has.