“Radical Women” is the name of the exhibition that served as the centerpiece for the Hammer Museum’s fifteenth annual Gala in the Garden on Saturday night, but men were on the minds of guests, dominating the evening’s cocktail chatter. Honoree Ava DuVernay even dedicated her speech to them.
“It’s nice to hear good guy stories, right? There are some. There’s a few,” she joked from the stage before saluting the likes of her “dear friend” J.J. Abrams, her father and Dr. Martin Luther King.
But of course the long shadow of Harvey Weinstein loomed over the proceedings. It was obvious that DuVernay was referring to He Who Must Not Be Named when she said: “I won’t focus tonight on men in our culture who conjure cruelty, who develop and dwell in the dark, dangerous places that make the world unsafe for so many women.”
But earlier on the (figurative) red carpet, guests were less tactful, and they couldn’t stop talking about Weinstein’s abrupt removal from the Motion Picture Academy. “F— Harvey Weinstein,” said Selma Blair. “F— him. Good for him that he’s out of the Academy. [But] no one took it away from Woody Allen.”
“I think it’s very interesting to see who else they’re going to do that to,” added Liz Goldwyn. “Because I think there are people who get awarded in Hollywood that have been accused of sexual abuse and assault. It’s time to stop being a boy’s club and protecting their own and start protecting women. There are a lot of people in positions of power — and everyone knows who they are — and people are afraid to speak up still because they’re afraid of losing their jobs.”
Actor Armie Hammer, who made the evening a date night with wife Elizabeth Chambers, did not mince words, either. “You know what, with the amount of stuff that’s come forward and everything that’s going on, I think it seems like a really appropriate reaction — and it was a reaction made democratically by a bunch of people. Personally, as a member of the Academy, I support it,” Hammer said.
“This past week has been really important as far as us moving forward and creating change,” said actress Tessa Thompson, who appeared in DuVernay’s Oscar-nominated film, “Selma.” “But also it leaves you feeling like, ‘Man, we have so far to go,’ you know? When we can be silenced so easily, when we can be outnumbered so seamlessly.” Thompson was thrilled to see DuVernay tweeting the hashtag #WOCAffirmation (women of color affirmation) on Friday while many of their white peers were simultaneously protesting Twitter “just to lift each other up and to amplify other voices that exist around you and to take back power, essentially,” Thompson said.
The elegant benefit, which raised $2.4 million and featured alfresco dining under the stars catered by chef Suzanne Goin of Lucques, celebrated not one but two powerful voices: The New Yorker’s theater critic Hilton Als as well as DuVernay. “They’re inspiring artists,” said co-chair Zachary Quinto, who explained that the two were being feted “for their significant contributions and unique perspectives and for the integrity of their work.”
“The Hammer is a place that represents that integrity and tries to acknowledge it and celebrate it whenever they can,” Quinto added. His fellow co-chairs included frequent “American Horror Story” co-star Jessica Lange, the Kayne clan (Jennie, Maggie and Saree), and Tomas Maier, the creative director of Bottega Veneta, which sponsored the gala for the fifth consecutive year. The party capped with a three-song set from Haim, who performed a rousing cover of the late Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” which perfectly captured the vibe on this night.
J.J. Abrams introduced DuVernay as someone who “eats barriers for breakfast.” “She helps us see that the old rules are simply the unchallenged norms of an incurious power class and that each of us has the opportunity and privilege to be part of this hard fought new age. Ava DuVernay is a truth teller, a citizen, a change agent, an artist with a capital A, and one of my heroes,” Abrams concluded.
Earlier, DuVernay told Variety: “It’s incredible to be honored by a space that’s dedicated to art and imagination — that’s my life’s work.” She capped her speech by quoting the unforgettable words of Dr. King. “Art speaks for life, art tells the story of life’s difficulties,” she recited to the crowd. “And if you think for a moment, you’ll realize that it takes the hardest realities of our existences and puts them into music and movement to come out with some new hope, or some new sense of triumph, some kind of miracle.”