Variety’s Power of Women Honorees Call for Change at New York Event: ‘We Need Every Person to Use Their Voice’

Power of Women NY

It was a day of support and encouragement among women — peppered with some hope for change — at Variety‘s Power of Women, presented by Lifetime, on Thursday. The event, which took place at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City, honored Shonda Rhimes, Anitta, Mariska Hargitay and Amy Schumer, and was hosted by comedian Amber Ruffin.

Before the honorees took the stage, Denise, Dominique and Tanya Brown, the sisters of the late Nicole Brown Simpson, paid tribute to their sister following the debut of the trailer for Lifetime’s upcoming docuseries, “The Life and Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson.” The four-part special won’t linger on the crime or the “trial of the century,” in which Brown’s ex-husband, O.J. Simpson, was accused and later acquitted of her murder. Instead, it will focus on Brown Simpson by those who knew her best. There are more than 50 participants in the docuseries, which airs June 1 and 2.

“The work we do, because of Nicole’s tragedy, will never end… we stand up here today, all three of us, so proud to be here and I’m so proud that Nicole’s voice is finally being heard,” Denise Brown said during the event. “I am really happy to see men in this audience because I really do believe that domestic violence affects everyone. It’s not just women, it affects the entire family.”

She continued, “Nicole endured incredible pain and through that pain, she was able to protect her children. She was able to be there for her children. She walked away from her abuser. She was a daughter, she was a sister, she was mother, she was a friend — she was a woman whose life was tragically cut short.”

Tears were flowing throughout the room after the powerful remarks, including by Hargitay, who immediately stood to hug the Brown sisters.

When it came time for the honorees to take the stage, each spoke about the obstacles they had to overcome to get to where they are today. For Anitta, that meant breaking through the boundaries set in her culture as she grew up in the Brazilian favelas.

“There were so many rules. So many rules on how to be a woman, how to behave, how to find the best husband, how to look good for the audience, to be the cute girl everybody wants to marry,” the singer, who was representing the charity CUFA (Central Única das Favelas), said. “And I was just not this person. I wanted to shake my ass, I wanted to be free, I wanted to make my own money.”

Schumer also spoke about the freedom of doing things on her own terms — and speaking up to get things changed. Representing Everytown for Gun Safety, she asserted that the gun lobbyists are “keeping us complacent by deceiving us into believing gun laws don’t make a difference… Instead, we need every person to use their voice. And you won’t believe this, but the most effective people have been mothers.”

While quoting multiple women, she shouted out Gloria Steinem, who famously said, “We are linked, not ranked,” an overall theme of the afternoon: Women building up other women, instead of competing against one another.

Rhimes echoed that in her speech, as she represented Debbie Allen’s Dance Academy. “Ms. Allen doesn’t care where you come from — DADA simply provides what you need to join in,” she said. “If you have nothing, she provides everything. If you have everything, you’d better not brag. At DADA every person has value, everyone is treated the same, everyone matters.”

There was a sense of urgency around the speeches as well, with the honorees and presenters calling for change, especially around leadership. “Patriarchal impunity has to end. Patriarchal impunity is when a male-dominated system exempts perpetrators from punishment,” Hargitay said before talking about how Harvey Weinstein’s conviction was in essence overturned because “too many” women testified. “Risky to let women speak? You’re damn right it is. Too many women speaking brings change.”

DJ Daisy O’Dell led music supervision for the event.

Anastasia Puglisi, Erin Underhill, President, Universal Television, Mariska Hargitay and Lisa Katz, President, Entertainment Scripted Content, NBCUniversal Television & Streaming attends Variety Power Of Women.Variety via Getty Images

Power of Women honorees Mariska Hargitay, Amy Schumer and Anitta.Variety via Getty Images

The master of ceremonies Amber Ruffin speaks onstage.Variety via Getty Images

Tamron Hall attends Variety’s Power Of Women New York.Variety via Getty Images

Eva Chen poses for pictures on the red carpet.Variety via Getty Images

Nicky Hilton stops for a photo in front of the Variety Power Of Women stage.Variety via Getty Images

Mariska Hargitay and her presenter Glenn Close for her POW honoree pose for the camera.Variety via Getty Images

Melissa Joan Hart on the red carpet at Variety’s Power Of Women New York.Variety via Getty Images

Ayra Starr and Bruna Marquezine.Variety via Getty Images

Ally Love and Emma Lovewell.Variety via Getty Images

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