Zendaya Talks Inclusion in Hollywood at WIF Honors: ‘When You Open the Door, Your Job Is to Jam It Open for Other People to Come In’
Women In Film, Los Angeles hosted its first fundraising event since 2019 following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Formerly named the Crystal + Lucy Awards, the WIF Honors: Trailblazers of the New Normal gala was held on Wednesday night at the recently opened Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in L.A. Ahead of entry, all attendees were required to provide proof of vaccination as well as a negative COVID-19 test administered less than 72 hours prior to the event.
At the ceremony, the organization debuted the Jane Fonda Humanitarian Award, which was named after its inaugural recipient and presented by RuPaul in a surprise appearance. During her awards speech, Fonda emphasized the importance of collective action and the power of women to effect change. “You here in this room have a superpower to make films and television shows that can change how people see things,” Fonda declared. “That’s what changes culture.”
She continued, “Waiting, wanting to change how things are is what activism is and it isn’t a sprint or a marathon. It’s a relay race. And I see this award, this award I think is a torch that will be handed off year after year to new generations of activists who will I hope do a better job than my generation did.”
The Crystal Award was bestowed upon three pairs of creative collaborators. Zendaya and producer Ashley Levinson were recognized for their disruption of the traditional compensation system with the shared equity model for their film “Malcolm & Marie.”
WIF honored Marlee Matlin and director Sian Heder for advancing representation both in front of and behind the camera on their film “CODA.” “Hacks” costars Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder were celebrated for turning the spotlight on key issues that WIF seeks to address including sexism, agism and harassment. Atlanta star Zazie Beetz, who was not present at the event, was named the Max Mara Face of the Future honoree.
During the dinner program, host Jenny Yang conducted on-stage interviews with the award recipients. Zendaya and Levinson discussed making “Malcolm & Marie” amid the pandemic and the unique financial structure on the film which ensured that everyone involved in the production owned a share of the profit.
Zendaya, who co-financed the film, explained, “There was a world where we hoped that one day, we would be able to sell it and maybe make some money, but we felt that if we did that, that the people who were there every day with us, who took the risk of coming out there and making this art with us, should partake in that. It felt fair. It felt like the right thing to do.”
She added, “It felt like a no-brainer because we made this together and it really was a labor of love.”
Levinson said that she hoped future productions would emulate their model. “If we have learned anything over the last couple of years, it’s to challenge convention and take risks on things we believe in and come together as artists and support each other.”
Zendaya noted that while she believed that the film was a testament to the advances made by the industry, she acknowledged that there was still work to be done “I think any of us who have ever been in meetings or been in the rooms, you can see it every day, you feel like you are the only person there who looks like you. In my opinion, it’s not a lack of talent, it’s a lack of opportunity,” she said.
“There’s always this idea that there can only be one and I oppose that idea. When you open the door, your job is to jam it open for other people to come in.”
On the red carpet, Smart and Einbinder, who were both clad in matching velvet Max Mara tuxedos, shared their thoughts on solidarity between women in the industry. “I think in the past, when women would get to the top, they would have this kind of feeling like there’s only so much room up here, I’m not going to reach down and give you my hand,” Smart told Variety. “And I think that that has changed a lot.”
Einbinder added, “The more women who are in power positions, the more women and female stories are going to be amplified. A lot of the time the culture is shaped and controlled by men. And in the past, it was true that there was one spot because that’s all they needed, but now we are so desperate for these stories revolving around women and women are the ones telling these stories, which to me is the answer to all this.”
Heder explained her decision to instruct everyone on the set of “CODA” to learn American Sign Language, telling Variety, “It was a necessity to create an environment where we were all able to collaborate freely without any boundaries and to do that, we had to figure out communication on set.”
She went on to say, “I think all sets could benefit from using sign language really since you can talk while you’re rolling, you can communicate from a distance, you don’t need walkies, it was amazing.”
Matlin described the experience as “magical.” “It was amazing to be at lunch for example where everyone was signing in sign language,” Matlin told Variety. “It was my world. I was really in my element. Yet we were making a movie. Doing something we all love to do. I am looking forward to many more experiences like that.”
The WIF Honors were sponsored by Max Mara for the eighteenth year, along with Visionary Partners ShivHans Pictures and Lexus and Major Partners Google and STARZ.