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Shonda Rhimes Gives the Most Empowering Speech You Must Read

Shonda Rhimes Gives the Most Empowering Speech You Must Read

By Jessica Radloff

A surprise appearance by Angelina Jolie, a moving speech by Melissa Rivers, and an empowering moment courtesy of Grey's Anatomy and Scandal scribe Shonda Rhimes—just another remarkable morning at The Hollywood Reporter's Annual Women in Entertainment breakfast. Here's what happened:

Melissa Rivers Opens Up About Life After Joan

Making her first speaking engagement since the passing of her beloved mom, Melissa Rivers followed in Joan's footsteps by making light of the situation: "The last three months have been difficult to say the least. This is the first time I’m speaking in tribute to my mother, [and] every single person in this room could hire me and a few have actually fired me. You know who you are, but I don’t want you to feel bad...but technically I am now an orphan.”

She went on to add that a profound moment of healing actually came at our own Women of the Year Awards last month at Carnegie Hall. "At the Glamour Women of the Year Awards, Amy Schumer spoke about my mother, and she hit on something that actually applies to everyone in this room. That was that my mother was brave, and I actually never thought of her like that. But when I looked back on her life, I think that actually might be the best word that applies to her. From the time she was a small, small child, she took risks." Rivers went on to add that Joan "was willing to say what others were thinking and too frightened to admit. She never apologized for a joke, and no topic was taboo and she was fine with that. She never thought of herself as a woman working in a man’s world. She just thought of herself as a comic and had to be funnier than everyone else."

And in classic Melissa Rivers fashion, she ended her speech in a way only her mom would want: "If she were here today, she’d be sitting at one of these tables, shoving croissants and silverware into her purse.”

Angelina Jolie's Surprise Appearance

Granted she's busy promoting Unbroken, but an appearance by Angelina Jolie is as rare as a Prince George just doesn't happen that frequently. So when Angelina took to the stage to introduce The Hollywood Reporter's Hollywood Mentorship program (with presents scholarship awards to 18 inner-city girls), the attendees (many of them major Hollywood studio execs) leaped to their feet to give Angie a standing ovation. When Angie presented two unassuming girls with full scholarships to college, even she couldn't contain her emotion and repeatedly wiped away tears seeing the girls joy.

Shonda Rhimes: "I Think I'm Pretty Fantastic"

The Shondaland creator received the prestigious Sherry Lansing Award, which recognizes a pioneer and leader in her industry. As impressive as the award is, Shonda's speech was even more so. It's long, but worth a read.

"When my publicist called to tell me I was receiving this honor, I [scrunched] up my face and said, 'Me?' I made him call and ask for the written reason why I was getting this award because I was really and truly worried that there might have been some kind of mistake. Now, I want to pause here and say that I don’t say these things to be self-deprecating and humble. I am not a self-deprecating and humble person. I think I’m pretty fantastic. [Laughs] But I also think The Hollywood Reporter Sherry Lansing Award is extraordinary, as is Sherry Lansing herself.

But I still wanted to know why I was getting the award, and it said many nice things, but the main thing it said is that I was getting the award in recognition of my breaking through the industry’s glass ceiling as a woman and an African American. Well, I called my publicist back because I just don’t know about this, and I’m concerned now. I come from a very large and competitive family, and by competitive I mean that my mother says we’re not allowed to play Scrabble anymore when we get together because of the injuries and tears. And one of the rules in my family is that you don’t get a trophy for participation. You just don’t get a trophy for being you. So the idea of getting a trophy because I’m a woman and an African American feels...I was born with a really awesome vagina, and I have really gorgeous brown skin. I didn’t do anything to make either of those happen. To get all Beyonce about it, 'I woke up like this!' So I know this isn’t actually an award I’m getting because I’m a woman and an African American. It’s about breaking the glass ceiling that exists in the face of being a woman and being black in this very male, very white town. But I haven’t broken through the glass ceiling.

'Do they know I haven’t broken through any glass ceilings,' I asked my publicist. He assures me that I have. I assure him that I have not. I have not broken through any glass ceilings. If I had broken through any glass ceilings, I would know. I would have felt some cuts, I would have some bruises, there would be shards of glass in my hair. If I’d broken the glass ceiling, that would mean I made it through to the other side, where the air is rare. I would feel the wind on my face. So how come I don’t remember that moment? Here’s why: It’s 2014. This moment right here, me standing up here all brown with my boobs and my Thursday night of network television full of women, women who own their bodies and whose lives revolve around their work instead of their men, women who are big dogs, that could only be happening right now. Think about it. This room is filled with women of all colors in Hollywood who are executives and heads of studios and VPs and show creators and directors. There are a lot of women in Hollywood in this room who have the game-changing ability to say yes or no to something. Fifteen years ago that would not have been as true. And for someone like me, if I was very, very, very lucky, there might have been one small show, one small shot. And that show would not have involved a leading actress of color. And it would not have involved any three-dimensional LGBT characters. Thirty years ago, I think maybe there’d be a thousand secretaries fending off the hands-y bosses at the office and only two women in this room who could say yes. If I were here, I would have been serving those women breakfast. Fifty years ago, if women wanted to gather in a room, it had better be about babies or charity work and the brown women would be in one room and the white women would be in another room. From then to now, we’ve made such an incredible leap. Think about that.

How many women had to hit that glass before the first crack appeared? I didn’t have to fight as hard; I had time to study the cracks. I had time to decide where the air felt the rarest, where the wind was the coolest, where the view was the most soaring. I picked my spot in the glass and called it my target. And I ran. And when I finally hit that ceiling, it just exploded into dust. Like that. My sisters who went before me had already handled it. No cuts. No bruises. No bleeding. Making it through the glass ceiling to the other side was simply a matter of running on a path created by every other woman’s footprints. I just hit at exactly the right time in exactly the right spot. So I’m breaking my family’s rule today. This is a trophy for participation, and I am beyond honored and proud to receive it because this was a group effort. I want to thank all the women in this room, and I want to thank all the women who never made it to this room. And thank you to all the women who will hopefully fill a room 100 times this size when we are all gone. You are all an inspiration."

The event, presented by Lifetime and sponsored by Audi, also brought out Lea Michele, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Tony Goldwyn, Jesse Williams, Sarah Silverman, Portia de Rossi, Hoda Kotb, Joel McHale, Nikki Reed, Geena Davis, Darby Stanchfield, Dan Bucatinsky, Maria Menounos, Giuliana Rancic, Constance Zimmer, and others.


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