Filmmaker Steven Spielberg and the USC Shoah Foundation honored filmmaker George Lucas and his investment executive-wife, Mellody Hobson, for their commitment to education, diversity and humanitarian efforts during the Ambassadors for Humanity Gala at the Ray Dolby Ballroom at the Hollywood & Highland center in Hollywood.
Presented by the Walt Disney Co., the Dec. 8 dinner raised $3.5 million for the foundation, also known as the Institute for Visual History and Education.
Gala host James Corden, star of CBS’ “The Late Late Show,” came onstage after a welcome by “Scandal” star Kerry Washington and remarks by Shoah Foundation executive director Stephen D. Smith, USC President C.L. Max Nikias and other guest speakers.
“This is really some heart-wrenching stuff that I’m following tonight,” said Corden before explaining his mission to tell jokes after hearing about the institute’s work to archive testimonies from survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust and other global genocides.
“Don’t worry, I’m up to it,” Corden said. “I had to tell jokes the night after Donald Trump was elected.”
He also preceded a stirring musical performance by composer and conductor John Williams and the Recording Arts Orchestra of Los Angeles.
Although the affair presented a somber look at the world today, by the time dessert arrived the night ended on a note of hope. Here are several quotes of note from four of the night’s speakers.
1.) “We’re living in a world where the definition of freedom will often find its expression in targeting others,” said actor Harrison Ford. “Freedom is not the right to do what we want, when we want, say what we want. In fact freedom is not a right. It’s a personal responsibility, a responsibility to choose what is right and refuse what is wrong.”
2.) On taking the podium, Spielberg first thanked the speakers, telling Ford, “In friendship, Harrison, you’re my biggest hero,” and commending Washington for the “the way you deftly handle a political crisis on your hit series ‘Scandal,’ [which] reminds us that being relevant while being entertained is one of the most effective ways to have impact.”
He called Corden the smartest man in the room “because he figured out a way to monetize something we all do, which is singing in the car,” referring to “Carpool Karaoke,” the late-night show’s recurring skit.
Spielberg then explained how the foundation grew out of his Oscar-winning film, “Schindler’s List,” which ended with Oskar Schindler realizing that he could have done more.
“This is where we are today, proud of how far we’ve come, but knowing that we have not come far enough because the world keeps reminding us of that,” he said. “Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia are again on the rise in America and Europe. … And our politics have become embroiled in discouraging racial rhetoric.”
Spielberg then talk about a young Muslim woman who was attacked on a New York subway as others watched and no one came to her aid. “Now more than ever, we need to teach the next generation to take a stand and speak their conscience when bigotry is happening right in our faces, because we are part of the solution, because there can be no more bystanders.”
3.) For his part, Lucas said his speech would be short, as he hadn’t written anything out. “I’m going to Trump it,” said the “Star Wars” creator, before talking about the importance of education and truth.
“Now the truth is being victimized in a way that it’s going to be very hard for us to get it back,” Lucas said. “And the only way we can get it back is through education, a good robust education that tells the truth.”
4.) Later, Hobson said to the audience, “Right now I feel like we are all frozen in a moment. We are all bracing ourselves for a full frontal assault on our freedoms,” but added in closing, that despite her sadness she has “real hope in the greatness of this country and the goodness of our people.”