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Adam McKay at Art for Amnesty Brunch: ‘It’s Been an Amazing Year for Movies Challenging Entrenched Power’

“We were thinking about how we break back into the Hollywood awards season with a social change-human rights message, and since the Globes were first up, we said, ‘why don’t we go for it?'” explained Art for Amnesty’s creative director Marvin Bing at the inaugural Art for Amnesty Pre-Golden Globes Recognition Brunch on Friday afternoon at Chateau Marmont.

There, the historic organization — which was founded 55 years ago, and has fought beside activists from Nelson Mandela to Malala Yousafzai — honored three individuals for artistically promoting freedom of expression: Participant Media founder and chairman Jeff Skoll, “The Big Short’ writer/director Adam McKay and “Homeland” actress Nazanin Boniadi.

“I think it’s been an amazing year for movies challenging entrenched power and corruption,” McKay — who founded comedy video website Funny or Die with Will Ferrell, and partnered with Amnesty in 2010 — told Variety before the program. “‘Beasts of No Nation,’ ‘Concussion,’ ‘Sicario,’ and ‘The Big Short’ challenge entrenched power in an open and creative way,” he added in his speech (which his wife Shira Piven delivered, after he had to leave for a “Big Short” event).

What attracted him to the subject of his four Globe-nominated film? “I’ve always been pretty politically active, and I think at a certain point I started realizing, oh my god, 70% of politics is economics! And once I realized that, I started reading a lot. And when you do that, you end up reading ‘The Big Short’ by Michael Lewis … I felt like it was one of the five books of our time, so I was just hooked on it,” said the director — who’s considering an immigration idea with Ferrell, and another idea about climate change, for his next work.

Nazanin Boniadi
Rob Latour/Variety/Rex Shutterstock

Boniadi — who was first exposed to Amnesty while growing up in London — has been an official spokesperson since 2009, and is a strong defender of youth, women and prisoners in her native Iran. “I just want to thank my parents, (who) always taught me, ‘compromise on everything, but never on the truth,'” she said at the podium, to much cheer. And in closing: “Actors get to portray the human condition, but as acticivists, we get to change the human condition. And I think that’s the most amazing thing that you could ever be a part of.”

Skoll was the final honoree to take the stage. “I heard that Aaron Sorkin was going to be speaking today. Thank god he dropped out – so you get me,” he joked, before growing more grave.

“When I started Participant Media 12 years ago, I believed in the power of ‘good story well-told’ to change the world,” he said. “Seventy-five films later, we’re proud of films like ‘Lincoln,’ ‘Syriana,’ ‘Good Night, and Good Luck,’ ‘The Help,’ ‘Contagion,’ ‘Charlie Wilson’s War,’ ‘The Kite Runner’ and many others that have led to social movements. And our documentaries films, like ‘Citizenfour,’ ‘Food, Inc.,’ ‘The Cove,’ ‘Waiting for Superman’ and ‘An Inconvenient Truth,’ have all sparked changes that we couldn’t have imagined when we got started,” added Skoll — who noted earlier how his films “North Country” and “Snitch” led to Congress’ reauthorization of the women’s rights acts and the changing in child life imprisonment laws, respectively.

Skoll also gave praise to Participant’s current award contenders: “In 2015, Participant had a special year. We have three films in competition at the Globes: ‘Bridge of Spies,’ ‘Beasts of No Nation’ and ‘Spotlight.’ These films use the craft of storytelling to help audiences connect with … defending individual liberty, recruitment of child soldiers and exposing systemic child abuse. We also have four feature-length documentaries that have been short-listed for the Oscars, including Davis Guggenheim’s ‘He Named Me Malala,’ Morgan Neville‘s ‘Best of Enemies and ‘3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets.'”

Next year will be equally busy, Skoll told Variety. In addition to a project with Steven Spielberg and close to 12 news films, he noted, “the TV network is expanding and we’re doing a lot more digitally — all to make a difference in the big issues of the world.”

Participant’s Jeff Skoll
Rob Latour/Variety/Rex Shutterstock

After a surprise appearance and remarks by Russell Simmons, and before an elegant three-course lunch and screening of the film “Canvases of Courage,” emcee Nick Cannon brought out singer Andra Day, who urged the crowd to “Rise Up.”

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