Elle’s 2019 Women in Hollywood celebration featured not-so-humble brags and F-bombs galore as presenters and honorees banded together to change how female artists are judged and perceived in an industry rife with double standards.
The magazine’s editor in chief, Nina Garcia, set the tone for the star-studded night by permitting herself and those who took the stage after her to boast freely about their accomplishments. Throughout Monday’s dinner at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons hotel, unapologetic women including Natalie Portman, Lena Waithe, Scarlett Johansson and Mindy Kaling followed suit, fearlessly singing their peers’ and their own praises.
One of the honorees who had much to brag about was Johansson, coming off her Oscar-buzzy film festival triumphs “Marriage Story” and “Jojo Rabbit,” and looking forward to her latest project: Marvel’s second standalone feature headlining a superheroine. The actress detailed her rise from a child dependent on welfare to one of the highest paid adults in entertainment.
“Just a week ago, we wrapped principal photography on ‘Black Widow,’ which was the first feature to ever be produced by an actor who also happens to be a woman,” Johansson said, then proundly added, “That was me.” The crowd erupted in cheers.
Each honoree who participated in the feminist lovefest also spent ample time hyping her presenter after her presenter had lauded her. Kaling, for example, hilariously and lovingly trolled her “A Wrinkle in Time” costar Reese Witherspoon for her superhuman reading abilities, plugging the actress and mega-producer’s popular Instagram book club.
“I [saw] a very sobering statistic this week that every 15 seconds, somewhere in America, Reese Witherspoon finishes reading a novel,” she quipped. “I love you, but I also — I kind of hate you. I don’t know how you do it all. You’re such an inspiration to everyone in the room.”
During her speech, Portman piggybacked on Garcia’s go-for-the-brag crusade by inviting her fellow female artists in the room to shatter another double standard. The “Lucy in the Sky” star argued that women should also be allowed to fail — though she expressed it more bluntly.
“I realized that success for women relies on good behavior and that the women who are in this room are probably the hardest-working, the least-complaining, the best personalities you can find,” Portman said. “If you are a woman, and you’re a pain in the ass, you will not get another job.”
“Our job in this room, as leaders in our industry,” is to screw up, she continued. “The most powerful example we can set for the next generation would be for us to do that most human of things: make mistakes and then not follow the narrative of the doomed woman or the fallen woman or the destroyed woman. Go out post-mistake and succeed.”
Portman was just one of many women who harnessed the power of expletives to get their points across, doubling down on defying what society has historically deemed ladylike. Even Kidman — who is “mildly afraid of cursing,” according to her “Bombshell” costar (and self-proclaimed potty mouth) Charlize Theron — blurted the F-word after watching Theron and Margot Robbie’s glowing introduction and a sizzle reel of her career highlights.
“It’s true, I don’t curse,” Kidman confirmed in her acceptance speech. “But sometimes you just have to. ... I look around me and I see the young people, particularly the young women, that I get to work with, and I’m pretty astounded. I am astounded by their confidence, and I was astounded by the powerful ways that they’re using their voices. And that tells me that we are all doing something right.”
Festivities ended with “Queen & Slim’s” co-writer Waithe and director Melina Matsoukas, who championed the voices of women of color in the entertainment industry — but not without paying tribute to black women who continue to be stifled beyond Hollywood.
“This weekend, a black woman named Atatiana Jefferson was murdered by a Texas police officer in her own home while caring for her young nephew,” Matsoukas said, referring to a case involving former Fort Worth officer Aaron Dean, who had responded to a request for a wellness check. He has resigned and been charged with murder. “Atatiana was a pre-med student, a loving aunt and a caretaker to her mother. She was killed in her own bedroom, which is meant to be a safe haven for a person. ... She was murdered because she was black.”
Waithe closed out the night with thoughts on power and resilience in an industry that has been dominated by white and often male narratives.
“We must tell our stories, and not just to educate white audiences, but to speak directly to those we have ignored, those that have been silenced and those that have been taken far too soon,” she said. “A dear friend recently said to me after seeing ‘Queen & Slim,’ ‘When you make art like this, they are going to come for you.’ And to that I said, ‘Let them come.’”
Cue the standing ovation.
The celebration’s full slate of honorees included Johansson, Kaling, Kidman, Matsoukas, Portman, Waithe, Gwyneth Paltrow and Zendaya. Only two recipients, Dolly Parton and Jodie Turner-Smith, were not present to accept their awards.
Hunter Schafer, America Ferrera, Indya Moore, B.J. Novak, Janet Mock, Catherine O’Hara were among the other high-profile guests.