Netflix executive Ted Sarandos cited “Orange Is the New Black” as his company’s retort to Westboro Baptist Church-style anti-gay protesters as he accepted the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Humanitarian Award Tuesday night in Beverly Hills.
Wondering aloud “What injustice have I suffered?,” Sarandos noted that in his own lifetime, his own marriage to an African-American woman, former ambassador Nicole Avant, “was not just unusual in this country, it was illegal in this country,” and that it took a Supreme Court decision to make his own nuptials possible.
“The small minds that fought to keep those laws on the books used words like ‘God’s will’ and ‘nature’ to make their cases.” One would hope that history is behind us, he said, but recounted going to the Academy Awards and seeing protesters holding signs saying “God hates fags.”
“For them, we have a show on Netflix called ‘Orange is the New Black.’ It’s one of the most-watched shows on television,” he said. “The stars are almost all women, women of all shapes and colors, all sexual orientations. One of the actors in the show is a transgender actress named Laverne Cox.” The mention got a burst of applause from one table where Cox’s family was in attendance.
“Her portrayal of Sofia is inspiring dialogue about the trans community that will inspire tolerance and acceptance and reduce fear and violence,” said Sarandos.
Sarandos and his family were joined at the event’s head table by, among others, Fox chairman & CEO Jim Gianopulos, Harvey Weinstein, DreamWorks Animation topper Jeffrey Katzenberg, helmer Brett Ratner, Haim Saban and the evening’s master of ceremonies, “Arrested Development” creator Mitch Hurwitz.
Also in attendance was Mike Medavoy, whom Sarandos cited as one of his heroes.
The annual Tribute Dinner, held at the Beverly Wilshire, raised over $1.6 million for the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance.
In introducing Sarandos, Katzenberg said “there are many, many reasons why tonight’s honoree is worthy of this recognition,” citing Sarandos’ success as a programmer. “He is almost singlehandedly changing how we all consume television,” said Katzenberg. Having observed that for the second year in a row “the Jews are honoring a Greek” (last year’s honoree was Gianopulos) and noting Sarandos’ humanitarian efforts, Katzenberg added, “We are honoring him because though his name may be Sarandos, he is a mensch.”
“When I look at the next generation of leaders, those that I admire, Ted is at the very top of that list,” Katzenberg said.
The evening included an update on the progress of construction of the new Museum of Tolerance branch in Jerusalem. Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Wiesenthal Center, gave an impassioned plea that the world act to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, warning that an Iranian bomb would lead immediately to a Saudi bomb and an Egyptian bomb, which would threaten the security of the U.S. and present an existential threat to Israel.
A highlight of the night was Hier’s presentation of Medals of Valor to two Italian families who protected Jews during World War II; to Mike Flanagan, an Irishman who helped found the Israeli tank corps.; and to Algerian novelist Boualem Sansal, whose books have called for greater understanding between Muslims and Jews, and argued Islamic extremism has similarities to Nazism.
Sansal, speaking through an interpreter, told the assemblage: “Ladies and gentlemen, alas, we daily witness the values of democracy and amity retreating all around the world, while intolerance, violence and hatred invade our lives. In these circumstances, born out of human and institutional cowardice, anti-semitism and the hatred of Israel are reaching proportions reminiscent of a tragic past. It is time to wake up and act firmly.”