NEW YORK – “This right here, I mean it’s the spice of life.”
That zest for the day was primarily about Variety’s Power of Women luncheon in midtown Manhattan Tuesday, honoring Judy Blume, Natasha Lyonne, Rosie Perez, Kelly Ripa and Michaela Jaé Rodriguez. TLC also received the Legacy Award, accepted by singer Chili representing the group. But for Lyonne, it was also about the serendipitous timing, just as former President Donald Trump was arraigned a few miles away.
“I’m so happy to be here celebrating all of these powerful women in New York with Variety. Ah, yes. A ladies’ power luncheon, and on the same Tuesday Trump gets (arraigned),” the “Poker Face” star said with glee.
Lyonne joined her fellow honorees at the lunch (also dubbed by Variety’s co-editor-in-chief Cynthia Littleton the “buzziest event in Manhattan that doesn’t involve Attorney General Alvin Bragg”), which paid tribute to influential women and the philanthropic causes they support.
Honorees took time at the podium to talk about issues close to their hearts, that affect women and children across the nation. Blume criticized the rise in book bans, Perez told her personal experience as a minority in Hollywood and Rodriguez called attention to statistics of LGBTQ youth at the crosshairs of death and suicide.
Sandwiched between the honorees were moments of comedy from Aidy Bryant, Andy Cohen, Spike Lee, Seth Meyers and Sandra Bernhard as they introduced the honorees. “Saturday Night Live” star Ego Nwodim kicked the event off as host.
Here’s everything we saw inside the power lunch.
From the Variety luncheon:Andy Cohen jokes Kelly Ripa has a ‘massive future’ on OnlyFans when she’s done with ‘Live’
Rosie Perez thanks Spike Lee: ‘When I first met you, I cursed (you) out’
Perez called upon Lee to present her recognition, although once he approached the stage, “The Flight Attendant” actress showed a bit of regret.
“Thank you, Spike, I thought you were going to embarrass me, like you usually do. (But I’m) very grateful you did not,” she said, before admitting to being nervous. “Thank you for seeing something special in me, because when I first met you, I cursed (you) out.”
Perez, 58, honored others who kept her pushing through a challenge-filled path during her 35-year career in show business, adding that she “didn’t do it on my own.”
Perez said years had gone by before she was able to find a job after Lee’s 1989 film “Do The Right Thing,” but with the help of another woman, her “Criminal Justice” co-star Jennifer Grey, she was able to find better opportunities in Hollywood.
“This girl was on fire, and she was not trying to give up,” Perez said, quoting her walk up song, Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire.”
Judy Blume uses teleprompter for the first time: ‘Do I look crazy?’
Although Blume, 85, has written many best-selling novels, the Variety event marked the first time the author read off a teleprompter. Meyers, who introduced her, stood nearby for help.
While reading from the prompter while pivoted to her right side she asked the audience, “When I read from this do I look crazy? I’m going to try it.”
Attendees warmly received Blume’s words (and her teleprompter efforts) as she delivered a poignant message about censorship and book banning, which affected her career after her books on puberty and sexuality were banned in the ’80s.
“What’s going on is unbelievable. It’s crazy and scary,” said Blume, who championed the work of non-profit group the National Coalition Against Censorship. “It is coming from our government, lawmakers drunk with power with a need to control everything. Sure, it’s still sexuality – but it’s gender, it’s LGBTQ+, it’s racism. It’s history itself that’s under fire.”
Michaela Jaé Rodriguez receives standing ovation, recognizes women from her family
Rodriguez, became a household name and broke barriers as the first trans woman to earn a Golden Globe award, for her role as house mother Blanca Evangelista on FX’s “Pose.” But she credited the love from her own mother for her honor Tuesday.
“Your mama raised you right, honey. Your mom is right there, and she’s an incredible person,” Bernhard, who first met Rodriguez on the set of “Pose,” said while introducing the actress.
Rodriguez’s mother took video from her cellphone as her daughter approached the podium to address the rates of attempted suicide among queer youth as well as the anti-trans bills that are being introduced around the country.
Mid-speech, Rodriguez turned the audience’s attention away from herself and toward her aunt, godmother and mom, whom she called “strong Black women.”
“You continually change my life,” Rodriguez said.”I hope that every other woman around here sees what love can do. Because it is powerful.”
Previous coverage of Variety’s Power of Women events: