On Thursday, December 17th, New York Women in Film & Television hosted the 41st Muse Awards, via an online ceremony, to honor Rachel Brosnahan, Rashida Jones, Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey, Alana Mayo, Ali Stroker, Awkwafina and Gina Prince-Bythewood for their outstanding achievement in the media.
New York Women in Film & Television is an organization that was founded to help women advance their careers in television, film, and other media formats. The theme for this year’s annual Muse Awards was “Art & Advocacy” because NYWIFT wanted to acknowledge the contributions of the creative community in creating positive social change.
The Muse Awards began with a video featuring all sorts of women from the media talking about the importance of women in this industry and the impact they have on the world. Following the video, the president of NYWIFT Jamie Zelermyer spoke to acknowledge the pandemic and how it has changed the way NYWIFT operates. She said, “Through NYWIFT’s grant programs, the new NYWIFT Talk Series, and The Women Who Dared Documentary series we are seeing many impactful films that are helping to change the narrative, lift up underrepresented communities and push us to think beyond our own experience.”
Actress, comedian, and CBS Morning News contributor Nancy Jiles hosted the event and gave an introduction to the awards show. “For forty years NYWIFT has honored women who are our muses. Like the ancient Greek goddess, they are our source of inspiration, our guiding spirits and we are celebrating an especially talented group of powerhouses today” she said.
The first honoree of the day was the president of Orion Pictures Alana Mayo. Mayo works in development, acquisitions, physical, and post-production for films that are dedicated to amplifying underrepresented voices in front of and behind the camera. She has worked on films such as Selma, Just Mercy and A Quiet Place. In discussing her career Mayo stressed the importance of seeing her image represented on the screen when she was younger, as well as, how paramount it was that she saw women that looked like her doing the job that she wanted to do. She said, “There are so many incredible artists from so many different experiences and identities that have told beautiful stories that have meant so much to audiences. At this point, we need to start to understand the value of having people in positions of decision making to get to say yes to more diversity inside of storytelling.”
The next two honorees were journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey who broke the story of Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual abuse allegations. Their work has helped to ignite the #MeToo movement and create a safer world for women everywhere. Kantor said “On this particular investigation the sources did in a funny way become muses. When you have sources that brave they do become your muses because you say ‘I have to find an accurate and trustworthy way to get this story told. We can not let these people down.” Twohey explained what it was like working on the case and the hurdles they had to overcome going up against Weinstein, before expressing her gratitude. She said, “Jodi and I, in the process of breaking the Weinstein story and going on to cover the evolution of the #MeToo movement, have encountered so many incredibly inspiring women and the other honorees within this award are no exception.”
Following Kantor and Twohey’s presentation, Jiles introduced Ali Stroker. Stroker received the Loreen Arbus Changemaker Award for her history-making career as the first wheelchair user to be nominated for and win a Tony for her role in Oklahoma in 2019. She was also the first actor in a wheelchair to ever appear on Broadway in 2015. Stroker has been a co-chair of Women Who Care which supports United Cerebral Palsy of New York City and is a founder of the anti-bullying campaign Be More Heroic. While receiving her award Stroker said, “We have so much power as storytellers to not only represent people’s stories but to change the narrative as well and I am really excited to be part of changing things and finally creating more representation for the disabled community.”
NYWIFT honed Rashida Jones who is an actress, writer, producer, and director. She is known for her work on many critically acclaimed comedies, produced the Emmy-nominated documentary Hot Girls Wanted and has most recently started a podcast with Bill Gates. Jones discusses the importance of artists using their voices to create change. She said “I feel like we have this very rich history of artists being the gateway to advocacy and to bringing issues to light that are concerning the world. Jones also said she looks forward to a day where women no longer have to be referred to as women in film but can just be people in film.
Award-winning director Gina Prince-Bythewood was presented with the Nancy Malone Directing Award for her outstanding work in film and television. Prince-Bythewood has directed many influential films such as Love and Basketball, The Secret Life of Bees and Beyond the Lights. She talked about how her whole career has been focused on putting black women in their own stories on the screen in an authentic way. Prince-Bythewood said “I want more women who look like me making these films. I feel like I’ve been the only one in so many rooms—too many rooms. So It’s my job absolutely once I get through the door to block the door open and pull others through it.”
Next, Jiles introduced Emmy award-winning actress and producer Rachel Brosnahan. Brosnahan currently stars in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and recently signed a deal with Amazon Studios to produce her own television series. She spoke about how important other women were in getting her to where she is today. She specifically mentions a former acting teacher named Carole Dibo who became one of her biggest mentors and closest friends. Brosnahan explained that what motivated her to work in production was a desire to tell more complex stories about women. “I was feeling really frustrated by the kinds of roles that were being presented to me. Almost every script I was reading somehow centered around my uterus” she said. “I wasn’t seeing stories about the kinds of women that I know and love in my life who are ambitious and sometimes loud and messy and it has nothing to do with their child-bearing capabilities.”
The final award recipient of the night was Nora Lum, otherwise known as Awkwafina. The Queens native received the Mayor’s Office of Media & Entertainment Made in New York Award. She was born and raised in New York City and currently stars in the Comedy Central show Awkwafina is Nora From Queens that she created. Awkwafina is also known for her work in Crazy Rich Asians, Ocean’s 8 and The Farewell. She said “New York is a part of my history, my roots, and my culture… It is in every fiber of my being.” She spoke about how she was inspired by the movies and televisions series she saw shooting around the city when she was younger. “I grew up in a city where there were constantly things happening. There was art all around you being thrust upon you. There was always something And so to have been years later been given the honor to shoot my show in the city where I am from is something that is beyond believable” she said.