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At Sundance, Hollywood stars rally against Trump: 'This is a new America'

At Sundance, Hollywood stars rally against Trump: 'This is a new America'
Chelsea Handler joins in with other protesters at the start of the women's march during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, on Saturday. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

While Donald Trump spent his first full day as the president warring with journalists over anemic inauguration attendance numbers, pro-female power united at the Sundance Film Festival as Hollywood stars added their voices to the global women's movement.

Led by comedian Chelsea Handler, an estimated 8,000 protesters flooded this  mountain town to voice their objections to Trump and call for solidarity —  far exceeding the predicted turnout.

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"Today's a beautiful day, and nothing can take that away," Handler told The Times on Saturday, determined to keep the momentum going after leading thousands of protesters in the women's march on Main a day after Trump was sworn in as president.

"The only other option is fear," she added, "and I won't be fearful."

Protesters prepare to march for women's rights during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
Protesters prepare to march for women's rights during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. (Jen Yamato / Los Angeles Times)

More than 4,200 people RSVP'd to the march, held on the busy third day of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival in solidarity with the historic women's marches taking place simultaneously across the globe. Nearly twice as many showed up early Saturday in spite of snow showers and sub-freezing temperatures, according to organizers. At the eleventh hour, Sundance organizers canceled their annual directors brunch "due to weather and traffic conditions," enabling more filmmakers to participate.

The message of the protest was largely one of hope and intersectional unity, punctuated in a post-march rally where actress Maria Bello, "Boys Don't Cry" director Kimberly Peirce, former "Daily Show" host Jessica Williams and activist Dolores Huerta were among guest speakers who delivered rousing speeches.

Stopping by L.A. Times HQ after the rally, Handler voiced her alarm over the Trump administration. "Everyone says Mike Pence is worse," she said. "No — Mike Pence is an adult. He might be bad and stand for things I don't agree with, but he's an adult male. We're dealing with a toddler, and that's not alright."

"That person," Handler continued of Trump, "does not belong in that house."

Chelsea Handler says women should not have to fight for their rights all over again.

With celebrity pals Charlize Theron and Aisha Tyler by her side, Handler led the contingent of thousands marching down Main Street, at the head of a sea of men, women and children bearing pink hats, American flags, homemade signs, a giant vagina costume and a Trump effigy on wheels.

Meanwhile, Sundance organizers confirmed midday that the festival had been the target of a cyberattack earlier in the day that knocked out ticketing systems at their theaters, although screenings continued as scheduled.

Among those marching in the crowd: Kristen Stewart, whose directorial debut premiered at this year's festival; Grammy-winning singer John Legend, flanked by security, holding a pink Planned Parenthood sign proclaiming, "We march for women's rights"; "Paranormal Activity" and "Split" producer Jason Blum, walking with his 20-month-year-old daughter Roxy; actors Kevin Bacon, Joshua Jackson, Laura Dern and Jennifer Beals.

Sundance Institute's Keri Putnam and the festival's director, John Cooper, also made it to the march. Although held independently from Robert Redford's annual film fest, the women's march on Main swiftly became a crucial event for Sundance filmmakers, stars and industry professionals to attend.

"Rememory" star and Sundance juror Peter Dinklage, "Underground" stars Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Aldis Hodge, "Bitch" director Marianna Palka, "XX" director Roxanne Benjamin and the "Lethal Ladies" of the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, who star in the buzzed about Sundance documentary "Step," also joined the march.

"Landline" director Gillian Robespierre attended with her star Jenny Slate.

At the rally, Handler urged those feeling anxious about Trump's presidency to unite and fight. "You're not alone," she said onstage during an emotional address, joined at the podium by actress Mary McCormack. "Don't lose hope."

"Nashville" star Connie Britton, who led the crowd in the ACLU's People's Oath with Tyler, wore a knitted pink hat a stranger had gifted to her along the march route. She told The Times that the Sundance march emboldened her to continue the call to action.

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"This morning, I started the march and I thought, 'I want to do a march every day,' " she said. "And we might actually have to. This is a new America. What we're dealing with, we've never dealt with before. But we have had movements to make change, and I think we can do that again."

Actress Jessica Williams, at the start of the women's march in Park City, Utah, on Saturday.
Actress Jessica Williams, at the start of the women's march in Park City, Utah, on Saturday. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

The event's most powerful moment arrived when former "Daily Show" host Williams, who stars in the Sundance romantic comedy "The Incredible Jessica James," took the stage.

"We have to fight," she told the crowd, the stars of "Step" standing behind her. "We cannot slack, because right now we have a president who is anti-Muslim, anti-Latino, anti-gay, anti-black, anti-woman, anti-Native American and anti-natives.

"[What's] even more scary is that we have a vice president who has been a politician for a long time and is a really strong opponent of the LGBT community. And I am so sorry that they were elected, but just know that I march for you and I pray that you march for me."

The moment had a profound effect on Williams, who shared a powerful lesson from her mother in a speech that garnered enormous cheers.

"My heart was beating," she later told The Times. "It felt really electric, it felt really powerful. I felt affirmed, and I hope that I affirmed everybody else."

Times staff writers Amy Kaufman, Mark Olsen and Steven Zeitchik contributed to this report.

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