Emmy and Peabody award-winner R.J. Cutler is using the power of the pen to bring hope during this pivotal time in history.
The Athena Film Festival kicked off their 10th-anniversary celebrations with a bang, at the Athena Film Festival Awards Ceremony on February 26 at Barnard College. This year’s honorees included Lady Bird actress, Beanie Feldstein, film director Unjoo Moon, and Gamechanger CEO Effie T. Brown with presenters Paul Feig and Verna Myers.
We caught up with feminist icon Gloria Steinem, film subjects, and members of the “True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality” production team on the red carpet at a special screening of the film at the SVA Theater.
For the past eight years, the Athena Film Festival has been a leader in providing recognition for female and minority filmmakers.
In a political environment such as our own, it becomes customary to question what is going on in our environment and look to those who acted before us for inspiration. Be that looking hundreds of years ago at revolutionaries and how they overcame monarchs, or even only fifty years ago and looking at labor unions.
Ms. Foundation celebrates their 21st Comedy Night at Caroline’s On Broadway in New York City.
On Monday May 23rd, the seventh annual Lilly Awards were held at the off-Broadway Signature Theatre. The red carpet was fun and casual as artists across all theatrical disciplines posed for photos. Looking around the lobby of the theater, one was surrounded by a warm community of passionate artists who are also active forces of change in the industry, such as Danai Gurira and Diane Paulus. I briefly spoke with two of the night’s honorees, Jessie Mueller and Kathy Najimy.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given or something someone’s said that’s really resonated with you?
JESSIE MUELLER: (Laughing) Simply don’t let people f**k with you. Stay your course.
How does it feel to be honored at the Lilly Awards today?
KATHY NAJIMY: It feels great! You know, in this business, we get a lot of prizes here and there, but this one is really important and special to me because it has the word “activism” in it. A lot of times, as an actress, you might get recognized for a role you did or a movie that was popular that you maybe didn’t do that much in or whatever, and because I am an activist first before an actress, this means so much to me. I love that they’re both in the same sentence because I am an actress and an activist. When Amanda Greene said, “Oh they wanna give you an award!” I said, “What for?” and she said, “The actress-activist-whatever award,” I thought, “Wow that’s a good day.”
How do you manage to balance the art and acting with activism because I can imagine they come up against each other.
KN: I don’t think anybody balances anything. I just got asked to speak somewhere and I go, “What do you mean me to speak about?” and they said, “We want you to speak about how you balance being a mother, a wife, an activist, an actress…” and I said, ”
Oh, stop right there. You assume that anyone in the world is able to do that.” I don’t know that that’s the goal because it’s never balanced. So you just sort of do what you do that day and then you’re tired and then the next day you do the next thing. It’s not ever perfectly balanced–the parenting, the apartment owning, the New York living, the activist, the actress, health, nutrition. That day you do where your heart takes you.
Who is someone that inspires you?
KN: Well you know, obviously tonight, my friend Gloria Steinem is here and she’s giving me the award and she’s really inspired me since I was fourteen years old when I reached up for the first Ms. Magazine and realized there were other people out there like me. In those days, there wasn’t the internet so you just thought you were the only one with crazy ideas. My mother, I know people say that, but I would say Gloria Steinem.
The Lilly Awards honor the extraordinary contributions made to the American Theater by women, as well as announce the $25,000 Stacey Mindich Prize, which funds a new work by a female playwright, and the Leah Ryan Prize, which awards an annual cash prize to an emerging woman playwright and produces a reading of the winning play in New York City.
Writer, political activist, and feminist organizer, Gloria Steinem, along with Academy Award-winner and 2016 Tony Award nominee Lupita Nyong’o and the women of Eclipsed, presented awards to honorees including Tony Award-winner and 2016 Tony Award nominee Jessie Mueller, Kathy Najimy, Genne Murphy, Candis Jones, Rehana Lew Mirza, and the women of Waking the Feminists. Other presenters included Lloyd Suh, Russell G. Jones, Rachel Chavkin, and Neena Beeber. The Lilly Awards also recognized Norbert Leo Butz and his organization, The Angel Band Project, as well as boasted special musical performances by Rebecca Naomi Jones, Amanda Green, and Georgia Stitt.
The Lilly Awards were started in the Spring of 2010 as a way to honor the work of women in the American Theater. The founders of The Lillys are Julia Jordan, Marsha Norman and Theresa Rebeck. The awards are named for Lillian Hellman, a pioneering American playwright who famously said “You need to write like the devil and act like one too when necessary.”
For additional information about the Lilly Awards (including a list of all past recipients), visit www.thelillyawards.org.
But that wasn’t as shocking of a statistic at the next one will read: “95% of Americans think the US Constitution should guarantee equal rights to women and men.”
Now, the second stat was used as a point in favor of passing the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), stating that if 95% Americans think there should be equal rights for men and women, then that would be a large deciding factor in gaining support to pass the bill and have total equality.
However, I read it as only 95% of Americans think women and men should have the same rights. Nonetheless, the point is that women should have equal rights as men, and the fact that it’s 2K16 and women still don’t is dumbfounding. We live in a country that prides itself on being for the common people, understanding of everyone’s troubles and backgrounds, and yet we regard 51% of the population as lessers in society, their only legal right is voting.
Taking that into consideration, the people behind the Fund for Women’s Equality/ERA Coalition, a coalition made to gain support for the amendment and help women in legal situations decided to host A Night of Comedy with Jane Fonda on February 7 at Caroline’s on Broadway. Appearing on Sunday included the coalition’s board, including Gloria Steinem and Jessica Neuwirth, as well as other prominent activists and comedians, like Rosie O’Donnell, Judah Friedlander, Sasheer Zamata, Gina Brillon, Wyatt Cenac, Michelle Buteau, and Sarah Jones.
Why host a comedy night for a serious political topic? Steinem, who was recently in news for criticizing female Bernie Sanders’ supporters, stated that “laughter is the only free emotion” and that in some cultures, “it is thought to be a path into the unknown. So there is a reason why we are laughing our way to freedom.”
Of course these women have had their run-in with politics and politicians in the recent weeks, with Steinem’s comment as well as O’Donnell’s criticism with Donald Trump in 2015. While O’Donnell kept quiet and didn’t mention Trump in her stand-up act – instead opting for a look into her family life and her recent heart attack—that didn’t stop Steinem from opening with him.
“It’s hard for any off us to be funny when Donald Trump is in the lead. And I hope there will soon be a group of rich people to explain that he is disgracing rich people. He’s not really a successful businessman, he is a successful con artist. And somebody had figured out that had he just taken the $200 million or whatever he inherited from his father and invested it, he would now have more money than after going bankrupt three times and sticking everybody with his debt. This is not a businessman, can you surpass that for surrealism and humor?”
After being introduced, Fonda talked about her past and her role in activism and feminism. “I want to talk about how I came to feminism: it took quite a while to understand feminism. To understand that it didn’t mean you don’t like men, it means that women should be equal and that you were willing to stand up for that. And so I began to identify as a feminism—that would be gloriously reinforced in me whenever I heard Gloria speak.”
Although letting it slip that a 9 to 5 sequel was attempted in the past, and her favorite part was when Dolly Parton started tapping her fingers while singing, Fonda closely sticked to the topic at hand. She did mention that she thought Trump was playing on “people’s anxieties” with his “racist” and “dangerous” views. And in adding to the hate, she said “even if he doesn’t make it, which I don’t think he will, all young Muslims: it will drive them closer to terrorists.”
At the end of the night, however, it wasn’t who was making the worst political remarks or who would become president, it was about and their rights—or lack thereof. “And it is a seriously long fight but I think in some countries that have equality, they don’t have the right to practice those freedoms because they haven’t had a fight. And after we win we’re going to have muscle,” ended Steinem.
Read our interviews below and be sure to check out the ERA website for more information.
Can you elaborate on your comment with Bill Maher on female Bernie supporters?
It’s on Facebook and I learned not to comment in the world of Twitter, so it’s on Facebook.
What do you say about the young voters who are voting for Bernie instead of Hillary?
I think that Bernie is saying the message of occupy. So he is stating the problem very clearly, which is a good thing, and Hillary is stating the solution very clearly, which is a good thing. And hopefully, I’m sure in the future, they will end up together.
Do you believe Hillary would get the youth vote besides that demographic’s inclination towards Bernie?
Well she has the gender gap and the race gap as it is. So in 2008 I didn’t think she could win but now I think she can. But it’s going to be hell.
What do you think is going on with the Republicans?
I’m sorry to say that they’re not Republicans. Those of us who remember the real Republican Party, which supported the Equal Rights Amendment before the Democrats and others were pro-choice. These are extremists who have taken over the Republican Party, and it’s very dangerous to have one of our two great parties in the hands of extremists.
New York Representative Carolyn Maloney:
You can’t dismiss that Bernie is very popular with youth voters.
I think more people are gaining votership. I think she will get the nominee.
Have you been campaigning for her?
Yes I have, I’ve been to New Hampshire, I’ve been to Iowa, I’m going to South Carolina and Virginia.
Those are the places that haven’t ratified the ERA. What can we do to wake them up?
Well it’s going to take a lot of grassroots effort and we’re going to keep working on it and that’s what we’re doing.
But that’s been going on for years.
Well it’s time to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. This is a wonderful gathering of people and I hope it brings more momentum: we have 180 cosponsors in the house and we’re working hard to make it happen. And many of the things that people said that we shouldn’t have fail. We passed it in ’72 and it was ratified by 35 states and we need 38. Well what they said was “No women in the military.” And the women are in the military. They said “Co-ed bathrooms.” Well have you been on a plane recently? They’re all co-ed bathrooms. They were concerned about gay rights; well the Supreme Court decision certainly helped straight out some gay rights questions. So many of the obstacles are no longer there, but the statistics are there, the inequality is still there. And if you look at the gender gap, it has been consistent for roughly thirty years. And what happens is the gender gap, it compounds into retirement, into your savings account, into your earnings. And it’s one of the reasons why women are the largest proportion living in poverty, in their old age.
As someone whose received Oscar nominations, what do you think about its diversity?
Well I think it’s very clear that it’s part of the dialogue. We have to be talking about it. The Academy is taking it seriously and I think there’s going to be changes.
What do you think about Bernie?
I think he’s great. I think he’s raising political issues. I think he’s very good at pointing out the problems and Hillary can solve it.
You worked with Tina Fey on 30 Rock so how was that like?
I think it’s pretty much what you would think it would be like. It was pretty awesome, yeah it was pretty awesome.
Taking that into consideration, what do you think about women writers and women comedians in the first place?
It’s great and there’s been more and more recently and that’s good. I don’t think the reason there’s more women in comedy is necessarily because show business is such an activist society. I think it’s because you have a few women like Tina Fey who have been very successful. And Hollywood, not always so creative from the business side of things, they just like to copy what’s successful. But I hope that things keep getting more that way and more diverse. I’m just saying that if you’re a feminist, don’t get relaxed and think feminism is solved, is what I’m saying. You know it’s not like “Well, we love women now so we’re all for it.” It’s bringing money and Hollywood only cares about money.
Would you call yourself a feminist?
Yeah definitely. I mean feminism means you’re for equal rights, so yes, I’m for equal rights, 100%.
And why are here supporting the ERA?
Well I was asked to do it and I think it’s a great opportunity. One thing about America, and I talk a lot about this in my act, is the hypocrisy of America. Because not too many countries build themselves as the greatest country in the history of the planet, but we do. And I’m actually working on a new stand up album and movie right now which is called “America is the Greatest Country in the United States.” And it’s all about the hypocrisy of our history and are we really the best.