This is not a movie, Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the crowd Friday night at the fundraising gala for Sean Penn’s humanitarian relief organization CORE.
The embattled leader addressed the dinner event with a pre-recorded video that urged the wealthy and powerful attendees at the Hollywood Palladium event to find ways to support Ukraine. His five-minute plea was intercut with scenes of the detritus of war large and small, from buildings being blown up to a close-up of a battered and bloodied stuffed animal left behind on a road by a fleeing family.
“This is our reality,” said a grim-faced Zelenskyy, who wore a green T-shirt and fatigues while sitting in front of a tactical map. The actor, who became Ukraine’s president in 2019, addressed the industry crowd as a fellow professional. “It’s not VFX, it’s not computer graphics. All of this is our reality,” he said.
Ukrainians have been resisting Russian advances for 107 days and counting, Zelenskyy said. He cited the symbolic gesture that Hollywood made during WWII in making Oscar statuettes out of plaster when all available metal was needed for the war effort.
“Any help is valuable and important” for combatting “this evil which is called Russian full-scale aggression,” Zelenskyy said. “Fight for Ukraine because Ukraine is fighting for the whole world.”
Earlier in the evening, Ukraine’s cause was also championed by Dakh Daughters, an avant-garde trio of female musicians, who performed several numbers (under white pancake makeup) and closed by unfurling a large Ukrainian flag emblazoned with “Arm Ukraine.”
Penn’s Community Organized Relief Effort was born out of the actor’s desire to bring help to Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake that devastated the island. Penn recalled how President Bill Clinton and CAA’s Bryan Lourd “saved our asses” when the fledgling organization needed help on the ground in Haiti. A dozen years later, surveying the scope of the organization and its work, Penn reflected, “I walk into this building tonight and I think, ‘How the hell did this happen?'”
Clinton was on hand to present one of the night’s honors to investor Frank Giustra. John Legend came out for a solo piano rendition of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also took the stage to pay tribute to CORE for its help in running the country’s largest COVID testing and vaccination sites.
Host Aida Rodriguez got the crowd’s attention from the start, ribbing them about being “woke” and warning that “my comedy is confrontational.”
The long night included an auction component. Auctioneer Letitia Frye, a familiar fast-talking voice from the Hollywood charity circuit, was on hand to help bring in the bucks. She sold off original artworks as well as the chance to have Legend perform a solo concert in the winning bidder’s living room — a one-of-a-kind offering that went for $1 million. Frye at one point got a little help from attendee Sharon Stone, who cut quite a figure in a bright pink suit.