This is a huge week for film awards. The Broadcast Film Critics have just announced their Critic’s Choice awards nominations, as has the Hollywood Foreign Press with their Golden Globes. Both the Los Angeles and New York film critics have weighed in, too. In between all of this exciting news, I took off wandering down Park Avenue in New York City in search of the legendary Waldorf-Astoria hotel.
Why? You might ask…
PopMatters was cordially invited to the 28th annual New York Women in Film and Television Muse Awards luncheon, which took place on Tuesday, December 9th at the opulent Gotham institution. This was my first actual awards ceremony, and hopefully the first of many.
The city was customarily alive with twinkling pre-celebration lights and verve, while Holiday carols could be heard at every corner. In the air, there was definitely a distinct feeling of that special kind of NYC Christmas good cheer and the spirit of generosity extended into the glittering grand ballroom of the Waldorf, where charity and goodwill abounded, in the form of about a thousand dedicated ladies who were nestled comfortably amongst the frescoed ceilings and luminous mirrored crystal chandeliers.
Previous Muse honorees include Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon, Barbara Walters, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Frances McDormand, Alfre Woodard and Dianne Wiest, and the group’s Honorary Board includes renowned women such as Gena Rowlands, Liv Ullmann and Glenn Close, but what makes the Muse Awards so special isn’t it’s star power (though it doesn’t hurt). The biggest draw of the organization is that it is specifically geared towards supporting the advancement of women in the entertainment industry and offers scholarships, jobs, funding, and awards in equal measure to achieve this goal (two of their pet projects, The Museum of Modern Art’s Women in Film Archive and the Film Finishing Project are particularly awesome). “Last year only five of the top 60 films had major roles for women,” said Muse Award recipient Cynthia Nixon. “And only 15 percent of the top directors, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors are female. And that is why the New York Women in Film and Television is so important.”
“We need to support each other and fight for each other. We all need to be in there pitching for ourselves and for each other,” said Nixon, showing a nice pro-feminism flair. “As an actress, I need women executives who are going to develop and green light those movies where women’s roles that amount to more than a single, two-dimensional wife or girlfriend.” Parity for women in the business is, of course, a subject near and dear to my heart as the role of gender in film is both my passion and my area of academic interest. The ceremony was a synergistically perfect fit of writer and subject, really, and a terrific initiation into the netherworld of the mythic “awards ceremony”.
Honoring actresses Laura Linney (recent Oscar nominee for The Savages) and Nixon (Sex and the City), as well as executives Linda Kaplan Thaler (CEO of Kaplan Thaler Group advertising and entertainment), and Cyma Zarghami (President of the Nickelodeon/MTVN Kids and Family Group since 2006), for their continued championing of women in the business, the Muse Awards proved to be antonymous to the proper, stuffy surroundings. The annual luncheon, emceed by the versatile, funny Nancy Giles (CBS News Sunday Morning) was a swanky affair that brought out some of the most powerful, influential women in NYC, but managed somehow to stay lively and fun, with whip-smart speeches abounding and thoughtful tributes from the dais (although repeatedly pointing out how bad the economy is while eating lunch at the Waldorf seemed a little misplaced and gauche). “Women appeal to everyone. Even vampires” quipped President Laverne Berry, alluding to the box office behemoth Twilight. “It’s simple: Give. Women. More. Money.”
Inside the chatter-filled ballroom, there were a lot of tall heels, little black dresses, facelifts, and, Peta-be-damned, furs. Face-lifted or not, everyone looked sharp, plus there was an open bar, which always makes people happier. The energy at a mainly-girl event such as The Muse awards is contagious and being one of the few dudes in attendance afforded me the ultimate journalistic privilege – I was able to act as a fly on the wall, privy to the secrets of all of these interesting, enthusiastic women. In other words, my version of heaven. Well, that is if “heaven” was filled with a core voracious, obnoxious photographers, as I suspect it might actually be. As the photogs were jockeying and fighting for positions in the press room, I stood calmly behind them; glad that photography remained, for me, a hobby.
When Linney entered the room, the photographers all briefly spazzed out. Let’s talk about Laura Linney, what she is like in person, for just a second: she is glowing, amazing perfection incarnate. She looked nearly incandescent. Though she graciously posed and smiled for the piranhas, she did not talk to the press, prompting one lumpy middle-aged man with hair coming out of his ears to cackle and grouse “what a bitch”. At an awards ceremony celebrating women, no less! Is nothing sacred? Later, a paparazzi photographer came over to me, showed me a pic he had snapped, and barked “who is this?!” It was, funny enough, Linney, one of the major honorees, and one of the most respected, celebrated actresses of our time. “I’m very, very lucky to have grown up in New York City,” she said. “It gave me a spirit of independence that has followed me here to this day. I also grew up with theater where there is such comradery among artists that I wasn’t aware of sexism until I started working in Hollywood. It was a shock. And at times, it is still a shock. ”
After Linney, a beaming Nixon bounced into the room, and was both accommodating and radiant. “I think women are really very communicative,” she explained to me when asked what the best thing about working with other gals was. “I have a lot of experience, certainly on Sex and the City and in other things that I’ve done, where I feel like other women really stand up for you. It’s fun to have girlfriends that are on the set or backstage.” Talking to the actress felt more intimidating than any other interview I have done – mainly because of the million disorienting flashbulbs that were popping off as I was trying to center myself. Everyone in the room was hanging on her every move and this sort of laser-like focus served as a reminder of just how poised big league actors must be at all times at events like this because all eyes truly are on them. To see a mini-media circus unfold in front of you as you are shaking the hand of Miranda Hobbes is disorienting, at the very least.
“This has been an interesting year to be a woman, in politics, in entertainment, and in the world,” said Nixon. “We have taken some big steps forward this year, but there have also been reminders that glass ceilings remain and that backlash inevitably seems to accompany our advancement. [Sex and the City] had an opening weekend of 57 million dollars. The highest grossing debut, ever, for a movie starring women, and women over 40. But you can’t imagine how beat up all of us got in the midst of our success. Movie critics, the vast majority of whom are men, gave us such a reaming in the press, they sounded more like they were indicting an ex-girlfriend than evaluating a movie. It really felt angry and personal. Many civilian males acted similarly. I was walking down the street, not very long ago, when a guy yelled at me, out of a truck, ‘your movie sucked’.
“One of the main reasons it took so long to actually make the film in the first place was that the people who were in charge of green lighting it were skeptical that it could make any money,” Nixon explained in her acceptance speech. “Now, while I don’t think that female executives are infallible, I do think that if we had more women making the decision about what gets made, this would not have been the case. Women executives would not have to have it explained to them that women are not a special interest group, but are, in fact, more than half the population, and if you build us a movie, we will come.”
After a good lunch, dessert, and two delicious glasses of Pinot Grigio, I sailed back down Park Avenue in my strappy Gucci ankle boots and tight little black APC suit with a girly Lifetime Television for Women gift bag, complete with silver lame accents, displayed for the world to see, unashamed. In fact, I felt proud to be a man who unabashedly supports the endeavors of women in entertainment and look forward to doing it for a long time. If that means I have to occasionally schlep an uber-feminine gift bag through Midtown Manhattan, or eat lunch at the Waldorf-Astoria with Cynthia Nixon and Laura Linney, than so be it.