The resiliency of women against long odds and low expectations was the theme of the night on Thursday as Variety and Lifetime toasted four of the entertainment industry’s brightest stars at the annual Power of Women event.
Fantasia Barrino, star of Warner Bros. upcoming remake of “The Color Purple,” dedicated her Power of Women kudo to Celie, the woefully mistreated character she plays in the film, as well as her own daughter. Barrino didn’t hide her emotions after she was introduced with many superlatives by none other than Oprah Winfrey, who co-starred in the 1985 film adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel and is a producer on the remake.
“To watch Fantasia reembody, reimagine and reinvent Celie for our film was to actually witness triumph in action,” Winfrey told the packed crowd at the dinner ceremony held at Mother Wolf in Hollywood.
“This award goes to Celie and my daughter and every young lady that’s going to go through some things,” Barrino said. “But it doesn’t matter what you go through, baby. We fall down but we get back up. Google me. I fell, but I’m up.”
Barrino’s message resonated through the evening as fellow honorees Billie Eilish, Lily Gladstone and Carey Mulligan spoke from the heart about the lives and their philanthropic passions. Also honored were Emily Blunt, who received the inaugural Power of Women alumni nod, and the team behind Luckychap, the busy production banner run by Margot Robbie, Josey McNamara and Tom Ackerley, who is married to Robbie.
Robbie was on hand for the event but her voice was not up to par. So she penned a speech for McNamara and Ackerley to deliver with a mix of heart and humor.
“The only thing I love more than seeing women supporting women is seeing men supporting women, and I have watched for the last 10 years as these two dudes have dedicated their careers to supporting women and nothing could make me love them more,” Ackerley said, speaking for his wife.
Robbie, of course, toplined the year’s biggest box office smash, “Barbie,” which was also well-represented. Joined by her brother and frequent collaborator Finneas on keyboard, Eilish gave a stripped-down performance of her ballad “What Was I Made For?” from the film. The surprise performance prompted more than a few high-powered executives to capture the moment with their phones.
Eilish bared her soul while accepting her kudo, telling the crowd that she has been extra emotional as she is taking the steroid prednisone. The 21-year-old, who has grown up in the public eye over the past decade, said she was coming to grips with her identify as a female.
“I’ve never felt truly like a woman. I’ve spent a lot of my life not feeling like I fit in to being a woman,” Eilish said. “This sounds kind of fucked up but I have a lot of internalized misogyny inside of me and I find it coming out in places I don’t want it to. And I have to say, with full transparency, I feel very grateful to be a woman right now. I feel very proud, and I feel very honored to be here.”
The crowd was nearly silent as “Killers of the Flower Moon” star Gladstone offered a testimonial to the unique struggles that Native women face in the U.S., given the disconnect between governance of more than 500 tribes and local police. A murmur of shock spread through the room when Gladstone stated that some four out of five native women will experience “some form of violence at the hands of a romantic partner.” In a nod to the theme of “Killers,” she noted that the FBI’s unique status regarding crimes on reservations.
“The only people who have any authority to do anything about it do nothing,” she said. “The people left to do anything about it are these women here.” Gladstone put the spotlight on the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center as a vital lifeline for thousands of women in crisis. The center is focused “on bringing these stories forward of survivors in front of lawmakers, in front of people who have the power to enact some real change, and to give our people what we need to protect ourselves. Bare minimum.”
Gladstone was introduced by her “Killers” co-star Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays an FBI agent in the 1930s-set film. She credited DCaprio with forcing changes to the story and script to avoid the “white savior” trope and put the emphasis on the shocking violence and discrimination against the Osage Nation in Oklahoma. (Long before DiCaprio took the stage to pay tribute to Gladstone, Barrino brought attention to his presence during her speech when she stopped mid-sentence to point at the actor and say “Hi! Love you!”)
“Lily’s not just an actor. She’s also an activist who truly brings others with her as she did with me,” DiCaprio said. “Her tireless and passionate efforts reflect a commitment to rectifying systematic issues within our country and tribal communities.”
Mulligan, star of “Maestro,” was hailed for her work as an ambassador and fundraising dynamo for War Child UK. and its U.S. offshoot. War Child UK CEO Rob Williams joined Mulligan at the event, where she was introduced by actor-director Emerald Fennell.
After taking trips to conflict zones on behalf of the organization, Mulligan said it brought into sharp relief the privilege of raising children in a relatively safe environment. She compared her concerns about shielding her young son and daughter from inappropriate videos on social media to those of parents in other places.
“Imagine then the worries of a mother in a conflict zone,” Mulligan said. “Her worries might be something more like this: What if my child sees a family member shot? What if my child’s best friend is killed in an airstrike? What if my home is destroyed and we need to flee to a refugee camp? What if my child is kidnapped? These aren’t hypothetical. I know this because I’ve met countless parents in Ukraine, in Iraq and Jordan and on the Syrian border and in the Democratic Republic of Congo who have to consider these questions. They’re questions that parents are asking themselves tonight, right now, as we sit here.”
In its 15th year, Power of Women was presented by Lifetime, with Wells Fargo and Cadillac serving as premier partners. Music supervision for the evening was handled by DJ Daisy O’Dell.