Freedom of the press and Donald Trump were the topics that unabashedly took center stage at the 2019 Women’s Media Awards — the annual ceremony held by the Women’s Media Center, a nonprofit organization that works to make women visible and powerful in the media, launched by Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda and Robin Morgan.
Among the honorees at this year’s gala, held at the Mandarin Oriental in Columbus Circle in New York Cit, were “CBS This Morning” anchor Gayle King and actor-turned-producer and activist Eva Longoria, who received the Solidarity Award, along with four other Latinx leaders who all helped to launch the “You Are Not Alone” campaign, which went viral after their open letter sent a message of solidarity following the El Paso shooting and ICE raids earlier this year.
“As a ninth generation ‘Texican,’ I’m more American than Donald Trump,” Longoria cracked when she took the podium, alongside Diane Guerrero, Alexandra Martinez Kondracke, Monica Ramirez and actress Olga Segura, who tearfully told the room she immigrated from Mexico, passionately reminding that immigrants are “part of the very fabric of this nation.”
Longoria urged the media to more fairly represent the Latinx community on-screen. “Our letter was a big call to action to you as well,” she said directly to the room. “The Latinx community has long been portrayed as criminal…the media and the entertainment communities fail to lift up our voices…we must all and to take responsibility for the ‘othering’ of the Latinx community. We can’t just sit by and allow this mistreatment to continue.”
King was introduced with a video montage of her career, starting with her days in local news and ending with her now-infamous interview with R. Kelly. Steinem praised King for doubling her salary during contract negotiations, which also resulted in increased job responsibilities as the morning show’s lead host.
“I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to wake up in the morning and think of what terrible things have gone on,” Steinem said, noting that the “trustworthy Gayle King saves our lives” in the mornings.
King delivered an impassioned speech about freedom of the press and women supporting women, but she kicked things off with a lighter moment.
“Gloria Steinem said gender is the most restricting force in American life, and that tells us one thing about Gloria Steinem: she has clearly never worn Spanx,” King quipped. “I’m here wearing two.”
She went onto praise the role that journalists play in a democracy. “The press is under siege like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” she said. Giving a nod to former First Lady Michelle Obama, King said, “When they go low, we go stronger, and we are more determined than ever to report the facts…everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But they are not entitled on their own facts.”
King also discussed the importance of women support other women. “Women must be here for each other,” King said. “When you know that a woman has got your back, it becomes a little less scary…and that’s how a movement is born. May it lead to healing for our next generation of girls — and the boys, too.”
Also honored at the Women’s Media Awards were journalist Laura Flanders, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award; Lauren Embrey; MIT scientist and activist Joy Buolamwini, who uncovered gender and racial bias in artificial intelligence; Dior’s first female artistic director, Maria Grazia Chiuru; investigative journalist Julia K. Brown, who pursued the sex trafficking story surrounding Jeffrey Epstein; “Teen Vogue’s” Samhita Mukhopadhyay; comedian Mason Zayid; and political analyst, Zerlina Maxwell.
“People with disabilities are 20% of the population, but we are only 2% of the images we see,” said Zayid, who has cerebral palsy, pushing for increased representation of people with disabilities in media.
Maxwell, who received the Progressive Women’s Voices Impact award, explained that every time someone asks her if it’s difficult to argue her perspective on cable news, she thinks of her aunt who marched in Selma at 17-years-old. “If my aunt could stand up against the Ku Klux Klan,” she said, “I can certainly stand up against Donald Trump.”