When Meryl Streep is in the house, you know it's going to be a night to remember. What you may not have bargained for was a Streep diatribe about huge male-oriented blockbuster failures like "John Carter" and "Battleship," how they don't stack up to the profitability of lower budget femme films—like many of her own—and her attempt to open Hollywood's eyes about it.
It all went down at the 2012 Women in Film Crystal + Lucy Awards, presented June 12 at a dinner ceremony held at the International Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton with about 850 in attendance.
Hosted by actress Jenna Elfman, the WIF event honored Viola Davis with the prestigious Crystal Award—presented to her by Streep--and Bonnie Hammer, chairman of NBCU Cable Entertainment and Cable Studios, with the organization's esteemed Lucy Award.
Three other individuals were also feted during the festivities. Christina Applegate was honored with the Norma Zarky Humanitarian Award, young actress Chloe Grace Moretz received the MaxMara Face of the Future Award and Anette Haellmigk took home the Kodak Vision Award for cinematography.
In a special recognition of professional excellence, Women in Film also celebrated five women of Twentieth Century Fox: Elizabeth Gabler, Nancy Utley, Emma Watts, Claudia Lewis and Vanessa Morrison Murchison, who were presented the honor by the studio's CEO, Tom Rothman.
Elfman got the party started by noting the Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup victory and joking that the crowd was all LA queens. "We're here to honor talented people who just happen to be women," she said.
Without the pressure of an orchestra to play them off for going over time, all five of the honorees were able to fully express their gratitude after each received a heartfelt introduction from a colleague very important in their respective careers.
For Hammer, that was legendary actress Diahann Carroll, who currently stars in USA Network's "White Collar" and is also a past recipient of both the Crystal and the Lucy.
Hammer reminisced about her early days in cable, saying there was plenty of room at an empty table and openness to fostering a creative culture where breaking rules became the new normal. "I've tried to hold onto that pioneering spirit with all the changes in our business and I say 'bring it on,'" she said, and noted that more than 50% of her direct reports are women.
The Lucy Award for Excellence in Television that is now hers was first handed out in 1994, joining its sister, the Crystal Award for Excellence in Film, which was inaugurated in 1977. It is named after Lucille Ball and is presented in conjunction with her estate to those whose creative works follow in the footsteps of Ball's extraordinary accomplishments, particularly in enhancing the perception of women through the medium of television.
Christina Applegate's television career goes back to the 1980s, even before she made a name for herself with the role of Kelly Bundy in Fox's "Married…With Children," which she played for 10 years. And so it was only fitting that costar Ed O Neill presented her with the Norma Zarky Humanitarian Award, for her work in fostering early cancer treatment for underprivileged women.
The fondness and respect between these two obviously runs deep, with O'Neill concluding his intro by calling Applegate "my little pumpkin" and she crediting him with bringing her up.
Applegate, who currently stars in the NBC comedy series "Up All Night," also thanked Streep. "Without you, I wouldn't be standing up here," she said. "I've always wanted to say that, because you've been an inspiration."
She herself is an inspiration to other cancer survivors, having beaten the disease and then starting a foundation, Right Action for Women, to help those at risk detect it early and get proper treatment.
The 15-year-old Moretz, last seen in "Dark Shadows" opposite Johnny Depp, seemed a bit awestruck and understandably nervous to be in a room filled with power players. "I'm in ninth grade and we have a name for all the people in this room. It's the smart girls," she said. "I want to be one of the smart girls."
And then there was the real McCoy, in the form of Bill Paxton, there because of his role "Big Love" and not necessarily the recent History Channel blockbuster miniseries "Hatfields & McCoys."
The man of many wives on the 2011-concluded HBO series presented the Kodak Vision Award to the show's cinematographer, Haellmigk.
Streep was last seen at a podium earlier this year, accepting an Academy Award, but on this night was there to laud her "Doubt" co-star and fellow Oscar nominee this year, Davis.
The woman often called "the greatest actress of our time" used the occasion to lambaste the powers that be in Hollywood and remind them that female-centric movies are big at the box office. She cited "Bridesmaids," "Mamma Mia!," "The Devil Wears Prada," "The Iron Lady" and the Davis-led "The Help" for grossing $1.6 billion in ticket sales.
"Their problems were significant because they cost a fraction of what the big tentpole failures cost," she said. "Let's talk about 'The Iron Lady.' It cost $14 million to make and brought in $114 million. Pure profit. So why, why? Don't they want the money?"
The fact that Streep starred in three of those five features undoubtedly contributed to their success, but she was in no mood to personally take any credit, instead citing stats that underscored the dearth of women in the film business.
"In this room, we are very familiar with these dreadful statistics that detail the shocking under-representation of women in our business. Seven to ten per cent of directors, producers, writers and cinematographers in any given year," she noted.
Before presenting Davis with the Crystal, Streep added, "Alice Walker said the most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any. That's like hearing that women don't get raises because they don't ask for them. It's incredible."
Streep gave Davis a huge hug before the acclaimed actress delivered an earnest, moving speech. Davis' eight minutes in 2008's "Doubt" alongside Streep catapulted her to stardom in the film world after smaller roles and a career on stage that was rewarded with two Tony Awards.
"I've spent my whole life trying to be better than my mom," she began, and explained how she always wanted to express the complexity and duality of people of color.
"I couldn't do that in a 9 to 5 job," she said, before concluding, "The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are. My higher purpose is to rise up and pull up and leave the world and the industry a little bit better."
Ms. Davis, you have done just that.
Hillary Atkin is the editor and publisher of The Atkin Report, www.atkinreport.com and has written extensively on media and entertainment for USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, Daily and Weekly Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, TelevisionWeek, Entertainment Weekly, The New York Observer and LA Confidential. She is an award-winning journalist who began her career as a television news writer, reporter and producer. As a broadcast producer at KCBS in Los Angeles, she won numerous Emmy, Associated Press and Golden Mike Awards for live coverage and entertainment special events programming, and then produced and directed biographies on Robert Duvall, Elizabeth Montgomery, Linda Darnell and Nicolas Cage for A&E and E!. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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