BEVERLY HILLS — A Hollywood event that’s supposed to be about women’s empowerment in the industry and the world was more about how their rights are being imperiled at home and abroad.
Restrictive abortion legislation in the US and the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan took center stage Thursday at the Variety Power of Women event, which honored actor Rita Moreno, singers Katy Perry and Lorde, poet/activist Amanda Gorman, and Channing Dungey, chairwoman of Warner Bros. Television Group.
The event celebrates the philanthropic efforts of those in the entertainment industry, with causes ranging from providing health care to the uninsured to reaching out to underserved communities through the arts.
Angelina Jolie spoke of all the girls in the world who feel like outsiders as she introduced the 23-year-old Gorman, who stole the show at President Biden’s inauguration with a powerful recitation of her poem, “The Hill We Climb.” (Gorman plans to run for president herself in 2036, the first year she’ll be eligible.)
“How many Amandas are living in Afghanistan, hiding their journals, waiting to see if they’re going to be allowed to go to school?” Jolie asked. “As if anyone has the right to decide what a woman can or cannot do with her own mind and body.”
Jolie continued: “There is nothing more beautiful, more challenging, and perhaps unsettling than the free mind of a thinking woman.”
Gorman then delivered a poem so powerful, the speaker that followed her — director Ava DuVernay — quipped: “Thank you to the person who decided that I would go after Amanda. Lord have mercy.”
The nearly 90-year-old Moreno, who became the first Latina to win an Oscar, said that women have been deprived of power for far too long.
“We live in a time that requires us to be vigilant,” she said. “As women, many issues require our attention in these dreadfully dark days, when our leaders politicize the wearing of masks and polarize our citizens over vaccines, when in the minds of many climate change is science fiction, and health care is still not codified as a basic human right in this divine America.”
Actor Alyssa Milano said that “this is the most dangerous time to be a woman in America in my life.”
“Texas enacted laws that are worse than we could ever have imagined. Other states are following suit,” she said. “The Supreme Court seems content to let it all happen. And both parties in the Senate are failing us on this issue.”
Milano then introduced a surprise guest: Paxton Smith, the Texas high school valedictorian who scrapped a speech approved by her school administrators and delivered an abortion rights call in its place.
Smith used her moment in front of Hollywood’s elite to urge them to act.
“There is no more time to wait and see what happens next because the very thing we are afraid of is happening right now,” she said. “Every citizen of Texas who has the reproductive capability of carrying out a pregnancy has had a fundamental freedom stripped away from them, the fundamental human right to decide what we do with our lives.”
The Texas law is already facing legal challenges, including a lawsuit filed by the Biden administration.