By Dorri Olds

On December 14, New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT) held their 38th annual Muse Awards and Honeysuckle was there. The event, held in the New York Hilton Midtown’s grand ballroom, was jam-packed. Powerful women celebrated each other’s talent and filled the venue with hope and inspiration. This is a dark time in America, but together we rise. This year’s honorees included actor-producer Laura Dern; Amy Emmerich, Refinery29 chief content officer; director Julie Dash; Regina K. Scully, filmmaker and CEO of Artemis Rising Foundation; and actor-producer Alysia Reiner.

The ever-charismatic Nancy Giles emceed the gala. NYWIFT’s mission is focused on gender equality in New York movies and TV and this is a watershed moment for women—especially in the world of entertainment.

Special guest Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul kicked things off by recognizing the achievements of New York's women who work in film, television and media. “You are the ones who can use your art and talents to put a spotlight on what is going on in society today,” she said, in a speech that had the whole audience cheering.

Laura Dern stressed the importance of women standing together. She dazzled on the red carpet and expressed gratitude for “being with so many amazing women.” Dern’s career has been on fire for decades and it’s not slowing down now. For her role as Renata Klein in HBO’s Big Little Lies, Dern recently won an Emmy and was nominated for a Golden Globe for the same role.

Dern shines—with purple hair—as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo in the second film of the trilogy Star Wars: The Last Jedi. She gives a strong, decisive and witty performance. She has an incredibly moving scene with Carrie Fisher that makes Fisher’s death in 2016 all the more heartbreaking.

Meanwhile, Muse honoree Judith Light was radiant in white. When she stood to address the audience, she stopped for a moment for a tight, emotional embrace with Nancy Giles. Then Light accepted her award and teared up during her moving speech.

“As always,” said Light, “and even more so today, women in our business, and in the world, are taking up the mantle of courage and truth-telling, and consciousness. They move and inspire me. We are awake now in a way that we never have been before.” The crowd responded with thunderous applause.

Light said, “We have infinite stories to tell and the world is listening. And my faith is renewed by the way I experience this vanguard moving through the world with such grace at such a complex time…. And we stand on the shoulders of those who come before us and have given of themselves so valiantly to change our world. Now it is our moment—it is our collective voice that is the muse for our time.”

When I asked what her message to women is, Emmerich said, “The next conversation needs to be about how we change our culture so that we are not all in an environment where we feel like, ‘Me Too.’” She said, “Refinery29 wants to remind women to reclaim their power and that your voice counts. You don’t have to be famous for your voice to count. We just published a piece about Black women and the Alabama election. Thank God for the Black women, right? Let’s give them a shout out. More people should be talking. The African-American community needs to know their vote counts.”

In Refinery29’s article, “Black Women Don’t Need Your Thanks. We Need You to Let Us Lead,” senior editor Ashley Alese Edwards writes, “It is not—and should not—be Black women’s responsibility to stamp out white supremacy and misogyny that is so deeply embedded in our country. Black women should not be expected to come out to vote in historic numbers against a racist and homophobic candidate, while 65% of white women vote for said candidate. These are the same white women that helped put Trump in office. Thanking us is not enough. It’s time to actively address and fight against systematic oppression against us; it’s time to hire us for leadership positions; it’s time to invest in our businesses; it’s time to donate to our campaigns and elect us to office.”

The 12th Loreen Arbus Changemaker Award went to Regina K. Scully, the founder and CEO of Artemis Rising Foundation, whose mission is to transform culture through media, education and the arts. We spoke on the red carpet. “The reason I chose Artemis is because she is the goddess of fierce compassion. She is also the goddess of the mind, which I love, because she’s strong. I feel that the best stories that change our culture are the ones that start in a place of fierce compassion.”

Scully said that she received this award “because I’ve done over 125 films in the last eight years that tackled some of the most pernicious and insidious social injustices.” The films include The Invisible War, Fed Up, and The Hunting Ground.

The first-ever Nancy Malone Directing Award, which honors an outstanding female director in film, television, or digital media, went to Julie Dash. She directs episodes of the dramatic TV series Queen Sugar, which received 8 nominations for the 49th NAACP Image Awards—making it their most nominated TV drama series. And the show has been renewed for a third season in 2018.

Honeysuckle writer Dorri Olds is currently writing a book about rape and misogyny that will include interviews with courageous women who are finally ready to tell their #MeToo stories.

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