“Every year, in every awards race that tries to pretend like you can put art in a horse race, everybody gets left out,” the actress and activist told Variety on Wednesday. “I want people to start to look at these things for what they are,” she said.
“For some, they’re interested in the accolades because to them it brings commerce and they’re all about the money. [Money] always taints the atmosphere. I want people to know that we’ll keep fighting for worthy people to have access, but the artists involved should know that isn’t how we judge how well we’ve done our work, and how deep our commitment to our work was.”
Woodard was on hand at the New York Ripple of Hope Awards for the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Foundation at the Hilton Midtown hotel. On the heels of Alabama’s special election, in which voters chose Democrat Doug Jones over controversial chief justice and Republican Roy Moore, the night certainly felt like a victory in a tough year for the select crowd of activists.
Woodard said she felt emboldened and optimistic after a tumultuous 2017. “I think that sometimes the tendency is to look for quick solutions and sweeping moves. I think it’s a good idea to remind ourselves that changes and progress is constantly in motion and that it requires clear thinking and clarity of purpose so that we’re not acting on emotion,” she said. “Emotion keeps us repeating the same things. We have to focus and make sure we move purposefully forward. That makes me excited.”
Keegan-Michael Key, who quite literally sprinted off the red carpet to make 10 blocks south to appear in the night’s showing of “Meteor Shower” (the show marks his Broadway debut), said he thought artists had a unique opportunity to lead some of the tough conversations happening right now, from race relations to sexual harassment and criminal justice reform.
“The most effective way to show someone’s point of view is by storytelling and I think that is important because if you can watch someone else’s story and learn…and put myself in that protagonist’s shoes,” he explained. And not to miss a comedic beat, he joked, “I have done a lot of work in my career as a comedian where I have been in drag. I would never ask a woman to wear heels, because I wore heels once. I’ve experienced it.”
The actor also said he’d wrapped up his voice work as wicked hyena Kamari in Disney’s remake of “The Lion King.” He said the experience was “wonderful” and that “You have to wait until…they put all the images together…but it’s going to look amazing.”
In addition to honoring Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya and Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky, the night’s big winner, singer Harry Belafonte, drew praise from the star-studded crowd.
Danny Glover, a board member for the org, said he was on hand to support his friend. “There’s a history of artists as activists in this country,” said Glover. “When artists come out and become activists, they’re following a tradition and it’s wonderful when they know the tradition they’re following in.”
For his part, Belafonte said he hoped his work as an activist would have slowed at this point in his life, but he’d never stop working toward equality and justice. “The path Dr. King led our people and nation to was a horizon with great promise,” he said. “The best of us is still in front of us.”
Also on hand were Whoopi Goldberg, activist and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Peter Frampton, Usher, Gloria Steinem, and Tony Bennett. Alec Baldwin served as the master of ceremonies, and closed the evening with a star-studded rendition of Belafonte’s 1985 hit “We Are the World.”