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Power of Women luncheon serves up talk about Trump, midterm elections and women banding together

Power of Women luncheon serves up talk about Trump, midterm elections and women banding together
Emcee Jenifer Lewis onstage at Variety's Power of Women event at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills. (David Buchan for Variety)

In his introduction to Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, and one of five honorees at Friday’s Variety Power of Women luncheon, actor and director George Clooney took the Trump administration to task for stoking a culture of fear.

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"We’re living in a time where fear is our stock in trade,” he said, “fear of Muslims, fear of immigrants, fear of minorities, fear of strong women, because our government needs us to be afraid. The question is: Are we really scared of all the things that actually make America great?”

Continuing, he said, “When you tell a whole race of people that you value them less, you can’t be surprised when they question your values. And when you tell women that coming forward to testify about their abuse is a joke, then don’t be shocked when they’re standing on your lawn laughing on Nov. 7.”

George Clooney onstage at Variety's Power of Women luncheon.
George Clooney onstage at Variety's Power of Women luncheon. (Katie Jones for Variety)

The event

Honoree Natalie Portman at Variety's Power of Women luncheon.
Honoree Natalie Portman at Variety's Power of Women luncheon. (David Buchan for Variety)

Presented by cable channel Lifetime, the luncheon celebrated Gonzalez and Hollywood stars Natalie Portman, Regina King, Lena Waithe and Tiffany Haddish for their philanthropic achievements. Additional awards went to Participant Media Chief Executive David Linde and Kavita Shukla, the latter recognized by Moroccanoil for her work on reducing global food waste.

The crowd

Honoree Tiffany Haddish attends Variety's Power of Women luncheon.
Honoree Tiffany Haddish attends Variety's Power of Women luncheon. (David Buchan for Variety)

Clooney, ABC Entertainment Group President Channing Dungey, Tyler Perry, Gina Rodriguez, Gina Prince-Bythewood and Olivia Culpo presented the honorees to an audience that included Thandie Newton, Bebe Rexha, Alyssa Milano, Kathryn Hahn, John Stamos, Frankie Shaw, Elle King and Diane Warren.

The scene

Alyssa Milano at Variety's Power of Women luncheon.
Alyssa Milano at Variety's Power of Women luncheon. (Katie Jones for Variety)

The cocktail hour began as the usual Hollywood meet-and-mingle, where 500 by-invitation entertainment industry guests gathered inside the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills, posed for snapshots beside a 2019 Audi A7 on display, checked out Moroccanoil’s booth and sipped cocktails provided by the Venetian Las Vegas.

As soon as guests settled into their seats, emcee Jenifer Lewis bounded onto the stage, singing, “Get your ass out and vote.” She then turned her sharp wit onto several newsmakers, including First Lady Melania Trump; Supreme Court Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas; and this week’s White House guest, Kanye West.

“We, as women, do not apologize to Kavanaugh,” the “black-ish” actress said. “Let that go on the record.”

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The program

Honorees Regina King, from left, Tiffany Haddish, Emma Gonzalez, Natalie Portman and Lena Waithe during Variety's Power of Women event.
Honorees Regina King, from left, Tiffany Haddish, Emma Gonzalez, Natalie Portman and Lena Waithe during Variety's Power of Women event. (Katie Jones for Variety)

Politics continued to pervade the luncheon as the honorees stepped up to the podium to accept their awards and speak about the organizations they champion.

“My son asked me the other day why it looked like I’ve been wearing goggles,” said Portman, an advocate of Time’s Up, acknowledging her lack of sleep was because of the controversy surrounding Kavanaugh, the new Supreme Court justice.

The “Black Swan” actress then delivered a stirring speech about the shortage of women in top positions and the character assassinations they have faced when refusing advances by men in power.

“Stop the rhetoric that a woman is crazy or difficult,” she said. “If a man says a woman is crazy or difficult, ask him, ‘What bad thing did you do to her?’ ”

Honoree Regina King at the Beverly Wilshire for Variety's Power of Women luncheon.
Honoree Regina King at the Beverly Wilshire for Variety's Power of Women luncheon. (Chelsea Lauren for Variety)

She ended with a challenge to filmmakers to take a year off from portraying violence against women and eliminate stories about a woman’s rape or murder. A standing ovation followed.

Next up, King said, “Natalie Portman 2020.”

Speaking on behalf of the I Have a Dream Foundation, the “7 Seconds” actress credited screenwriter Aaron Sorkin for telling her, “‘As long as you keep one foot in the real world, while the other foot is in a fairy tale, the fairy tale will seem kind of attainable,’ but the reality is that not everyone is in an environment where that’s possible.”

King then spoke of the importance of empowering others, and, as for her dream, the multi-hyphenated actress-director-producer said, “Let me tell you in five years from now, my title is going to have another hyphen in it,” she said.

Honoree Lena Waithe onstage at Variety's Power of Women luncheon.
Honoree Lena Waithe onstage at Variety's Power of Women luncheon. (David Buchan for Variety)

After speaking about the Trevor Project, which focuses on preventing LGBTQ suicide, Waithe offered a positive message regarding women. “I can’t remember a time in this industry when women have huddled together,” she said, although adding that she wished trauma in the workplace hadn’t been the common cause. “Luckily, we have refused to be victims. … Luckily, we decided to rise up and scream at the top of our lungs and become a chorus of rebels that won’t be treated like second-class citizens.”

Haddish said she champions the Unusual Suspects Theatre Company because the organization gives children the freedom to experiment and tell their stories. She said, “I feel like it’s very important to always be your best self and be yourself and try not to be something you’re not.”

Honoree Emma Gonzalez, one of the Parkland, Fla., school-shooting survivors, onstage at Variety's Power of Women luncheon.
Honoree Emma Gonzalez, one of the Parkland, Fla., school-shooting survivors, onstage at Variety's Power of Women luncheon. (Katie Jones for Variety)

The last speaker, Gonzalez, fought back tears as she named the many shootings in this country’s recent history and spoke of the March for Our Lives movement against gun violence. “To each of you powerful women,” the 18-year-old activist told the audience, “you know that you are forces to be reckoned with. You can and have inspired peace and understanding and, most importantly, right now you can inspire your audience to vote.”

The luncheon then concluded with another standing ovation.

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