Jennifer Aniston, Ellen DeGeneres, Awkwafina and more stars overcame a dysfunctional teleprompter to toast one another and their charities at a women’s luncheon Friday in Beverly Hills.
“I’m fine but Jen (Aniston) is freaking it back there,” DeGeneres said as harried staff struggled to fix the broken screens that just a few minutes earlier had Awkwafina nervously winging it (“I can do a little tech support,” she offered) before calling someone to just bring up her phone so she could read her speech manually.
But there’s nothing like a few comedians to handle technological issues with grace and humor. Both had the crowd in stiches despite the minor chaos happening around them.
The 11th annual Variety Power of Women luncheon honoring Jennifer Aniston, Awkwafina, Chaka Khan, Mariah Carey, Brie Larson and Disney Television Studios chairman Dana Walden boasted a roster of A-list guests and presenters from DeGeneres, to Natalie Portman and Ryan Murphy who charmed and inspired the well-heeled crowd of entertainers and industry insiders with speeches about their charitable causes and their commitment to empowering women in the industry.
Aniston was introduced by DeGeneres, who kept things light and didn’t mention the recent social media uproar around her friendship with George W. Bush.
“What an honor it is for Jen Aniston to receive this from me,” DeGeneres said. “In a world where people are angry and mean she is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.”
Aniston wiped tears away as she recalled meeting a young girl fighting cancer at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“Every child deserves to know that they are seen and heard,” she said, remembering a time when an adult told her, at 11, that she didn’t have anything interesting to say. She said she carried that sentence with her into adulthood and often finds herself feeling like that 11-year-old at dinners.
The Morning Show star said her Friends mom Marlo Thomas introduced her to the hospital, which she has been working with for 25 years. And she said the last two years in the industry, following the rise of #MeToo, has made her think a lot about the messages “we send” young kids and girls.
“The things we say and do can either build them up or tear them down and make them feel like maybe their voices don’t matter,” Aniston said.
She admitted that she never, “Actually thought about myself as powerful. Strong, yes, but not powerful…It’s a distinction I’ve actually been thinking about a lot lately because that word ‘power’ and its counterpart, ‘abuse of power,’ keeps coming up in light of what is happening in our country and in our industry — a rebalancing of the scales.”
Aniston’s speech wasn’t the only to touch on cancer. Ryan Murphy, who credited Walden with giving him a chance in television when no one else would, also thanked the Disney executive for being there when he found out his 18-month-old son had a tumor a few years ago. Walden has worked with the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center since her own mother was diagnosed a decade ago.
Justice and empowerment were also on the minds of Carey, who spoke about how her own experiences at a performing arts camp helped inspire her to begin Camp Mariah 25 years ago, and Larson, who ceded part of her speech to Equal Justice Initiative operations director Eva Ansley, the woman she plays in the upcoming movie “Just Mercy,” about the advocacy organization’s founding.
The event, which was put on with the help of presenters like Lifetime and sponsors like Audi, was tamer than in years past when celebrities used their platforms to talk about everything from politics and the patriarchy to Harvey Weinstein.
But Carey managed to thrown in a little spice of her own in remembering how she had to learn how to gain control over her career over the men who wanted to dictate what she wore and who she worked with when she was just starting out.
“I want to thank each woman in this room and all the women who have come forward with their truths, their harrowing experiences, and above all their triumphs over the misogynistic society of corporate (expletives) that we deal with every day,” she said.