Vin Diesel had plenty to celebrate on Saturday night.
Not only did he place the winning bid of $70,000 for two court side seats at a Clippers game and a Breitling watch at a benefit for Charlize Theron’s Africa Outreach Project (CTAOP), but “F9: The Fast Saga” broke the weekend box office record since the onset of the pandemic. Variety’s Rebecca Rubin reported that the latest installment of Universal’s “Fast & Furious” franchise brought in $70 million from 4,179 North American theaters, unseating the $48.3 million record set by Paramount’s “A Quiet Place Part II.”
“I think what feels best is just the idea that people are returning to the theatrical experience,” Diesel told me at the CTAOP event. “It feels good to say, ‘Cinema is back!’”
Diesel praised Universal for going all-in on a theatrical release, without also sending the film to streaming. “You can’t fault another studio for wanting to stream a movie, but the ones like Universal are bold enough to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to support the theatrical release,'” Diesel said. “I take my hat off to them.”
Theron, who returns in “F9” after making her “Fast & Furious” debut in the eighth entry, said, “It’s amazing. Just thinking about the fact that they’re on their ninth movie, that’s pretty impressive. It’s a perfect movie to help us come back.”
Franchise regular Jordana Brewster agreed: “It’s really nice. It just feels good to be back in the theater — period!”
The CTAOP fundraiser, produced by CH Cre8tive, follows its last outing in August 2020, which included a drive-in screening of “Mad Max: Fury Road” on top of the Grove parking structure and a Q&A with Theron and co-star Nicholas Hoult. Saturday’s event was a mask-less get together on New York Street on the Universal Studios Lot. A screening of “F9” followed a Q&A with Theron, Diesel, Brewster and director Justin Lin moderated by Paul Scheer and June Diane Raphael.
“We really had to put our heads together last year, but it was such a successful night that we realized we needed to do a version of that again,” Theron said. “I don’t think people want to sit in dark [ballrooms] anymore. There’s also the connective tissue. Our programs work with young people, so we have to create a night that’s fun.”
CTAOP works with African youth to keep themselves safe from HIV through various health, education and community initiatives.
The live auction included Universal Pictures boss Donna Langley bidding against entertainment attorney and “We’re Here” co-creator Steve Warren for a five-star trip to Italy. Warren won the package for $30,000. Apparently not knowing who Langley was, the auctioneer asked what her name was and also tried to get her to bid higher by calling her “baby girl.”
The celeb guest list was impressive. In addition to Diesel and Brewster, the star-studded crowd also included David Oyelowo, Bob The Drag Queen, Taika Waititi, Seth Rogen, January Jones, Kate Beckinsale, Thuso Mbedu, Lilly Singh, Jason Reitman, Connie Britton, Sung Kang and “Bling Empire” star Kevin Kreider.
A usually press-shy Paris Jackson told me, “I really look up to Charlize because she’s so inspirational, and I hope to one day be like her with my philanthropic type of work.”
DJ Rashida provided the music. The event’s presenting sponsor was Coin Cloud and additional sponsors included Dior, Elephant Cooperation, Universal Pictures, Bloomberg, WME, Pernod Ricard, Breitling and PlaneAire.