“Onward!” Jane Fonda said, lifting her fist into the air. “Let’s go kick ass!”
It was snowing heavily outside, and fresh white powder was coating all the roads, but the actress, 80, was not daunted by the winter storm. She was scheduled to speak at Saturday morning’s Respect Rally, a Park City gathering to voice support for “all ethnicities, religions, genders, political and sexual orientations” that fell on the opening weekend of the Sundance Film Festival.
And she was prepared. She had on a flat-brim hat, a long coat and pink mittens with removable tops, so she could grip her notecards easily when needed.
After delivering her speech, she’d head to the premiere of a new documentary about her life, “Jane Fonda in Five Acts,” which explores the origins of her political activism. The movie, which will premiere on HBO later this year, is comprehensive — exploring her emotionally turbulent relationship with her father, three marriages and decades-long struggle with body image.
“The posters look excellent. They’re all over the city,” Fonda’s son, actor Troy Garity, said as he piled into an SUV with his wife, Simone Bent, and the rest of his mom’s crew — the film’s director, Susan Lacy, Fonda’s publicist and her hairdresser.
“I sure got a lot of mileage out of that arrest,” Fonda said with a laugh from the front seat. (The poster for the movie features an image of Fonda’s mug shot, taken in 1970 after she was arrested at the Cleveland airport for “drug smuggling”; her luggage only contained vitamins.)
The snow was piling up on the roads and police officers kept stopping Fonda’s car, advising the driver to take a different route to the rally.
“Just say Jane Fonda is in the car, she’s the primary speaker, and if they don’t let us through, get aggressive!” her publicist shouted from the back seat.
Fonda seemed unfazed by the journey, watching the snow fall.
“Well, this is a winter wonderland,” she said, looking out her window. “When is the film coming out, Susan? Don’t let it be right before the midterm elections, because I’ll be working, OK?”
“Is that in November? I think they want to do it in September,” the filmmaker responded.
“You could tour with it as a fundraising device,” Fonda’s son suggested.
“Yeah,” Fonda said, “where do you all stand on me using it as a fundraising device?”
Lacy demurred, saying that was a question better answered by HBO Chairman Richard Plepler.
The car rolled closer to the park where the rally was taking place, approaching a final checkpoint.
“Is she on the list?” a security guard asked.
“She’s Jane Fonda. She is the list,” the driver replied, and the car was let through the barricades.
The SUV parked and Fonda was whisked into a tent for VIP speakers replete with a porridge bar and hot coffee. There, fellow speakers including Gloria Allred, Tessa Thompson and Maria Bello were camped out, trying to keep warm. Fonda sat down on a couch in front of a bowl of chocolate-covered berries. She fielded numerous requests for photos, including one from a woman who said she was a fan of Fonda’s Netflix show with Lily Tomlin, “Grace and Frankie.”
“I went through brain cancer, and that show got me through laughing the entire way,” the fan said. “So thank you.”
Fonda — who had a Band-Aid on her lip because she’d just had a malignant cancer growth removed — smiled and shook the woman’s hand.
Outside the tent, Allred — the women’s rights attorney who is also the subject of a Sundance documentary this year — kicked off the event.
“You have come through the snow and freezing rain to stand up,” Allred said, looking out on a baseball field of hundreds toting signs and camera phones. “This entire year has been the winter of our discontent, but it has also been the year of our awakening — and awake we are! To the lack of respect and the denial of our rights for women.”
Fonda looked on from the side of the stage, gripping her son’s arm. After Allred finished, “Fleabag” star Phoebe Waller-Bridge approached the microphone, saying she was honored to introduce “the unintroducable, unformidable, Jane [expletive] Fonda!”
Fonda walked toward the microphone, telling the crowd how much she loved them. Her speech focused on the need to organize following the election, explaining how important governors are in determining redistricting.
“Our democracy’s survival and our Earth’s survival depends on our ability to get people the facts and help them understand who is really on their side,” Fonda told the crowd. “They’re not alone, and we have to get them registered and motivated to vote.”
Change, she said, does not simply occur through protest. She urged the attendees to help find a way to “expand public media,” helping to “counter the right-wing echo chamber.”
“Disillusioned voters must be reached by a media they can trust,” she said. “Everything is at stake. We’ve gotta give it all we’ve got. And we can do it. Time is up!”
The crowd began to cheer as Fonda waved goodbye, quickly escorted by a hulking security guard back into the tent. Inside, she began rubbing her hands in an attempt to get warm.
“Do you want some handwarmers?” an attendant asked.
“Oh, yeah! Oh gosh, yes!” Fonda said. “Can you open them up for me?”
She gripped the warmers in her palms as guests came up to compliment her on her speech, which she said she began working on two days prior.
“They were all very attentive,” she said of the audience. “I just wanted to hug every one of them. It’s so cold. They’re just standing there! And here’s this woman in the front, holding up one of my workout records. I practically fell down.”
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