New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT) is busy preparing for their annual Muse Awards. The 41st iteration of the luncheon, held virtually on December 17 due to COVID, celebrates women ‘of vision and achievement’ in the media and entertainment industry.
This year’s honorees include Golden Globe winner Awkwafina, Mrs. Maisel herself Rachel Brosnahan, Rashida Jones, Pulitzer Prize winners and the authors of She Said Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of the New York Times, Orion Pictures president Alana Mayo, director Gina Prince-Bythewood, and Tony winner Ali Stroker.
In a candid conversation, Awards Daily‘s Shadan Larki was joined by Cynthia Lopez, NYWIFT’s executive director, and actress and political commentator, Nancy Giles, who is returning for a sixth turn as Muse Awards host. The longtime collaborators discuss this year’s awards, themed ‘Art & Advocacy,’ 2020’s social and political unrest, and championing women through NYWIFT. Tickets for the 2020 Muse Awards, which promises to be an inspiring event, are priced Pay-What-You-Can and are available on the NYWIFT website.
Read the full interview below:
Awards Daily: New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT) and the Muse Awards have quite a legacy. What can you tell me about your organization and this year’s ceremony?
Cynthia Lopez: What’s exciting about this is when NYWIFT started this award ceremony and holiday luncheon, it was to recognize the talents and contributions made by women in the media and entertainment industry. And particularly during a time where they weren’t being recognized in the way that they deserved. At the time, the NYWIFT executive committee felt it was really important to have time in the year where we came together and celebrated the vision and achievement of the people they wanted to recognize each year. So from our perspective, we’re delighted. I have to say having Nancy Giles as our host for so many years is thrilling. And a fitting match when we look at women who have been excelling in the media and entertainment industry.
Nancy Giles: That’s so nice, Cynthia, and I didn’t even pay her to say that! She did that spontaneously. [Laughs].
Cynthia, I didn’t even get a chance to talk to you the day we did the taping; you did a great job. I was watching it from one of the rooms.
CL: Thank you! You too! You are amazing.
NG: Oh, thanks! This year was unique because of the pandemic. We ended up having to prerecord aspects of the show, which is normally a live luncheon. And as Cynthia knows, for me, it’s one of the happiest days of the year. It’s a wonderful meeting of all of these creative, accomplished women, doing wonderful things in all aspects of the media. And it’s their chance to shine. Some of the people, you recognize the talents, the names. Some you don’t. But what’s wonderful is as part of the afternoon events, you get to see and hear examples of people’s work and get an idea of what they did to become one of these muses.
It’s just a great feeling of camaraderie and excellence. And it’s funny because I consider myself kind of a neurotic, competitive person. And yet, at the event every year, I always feel jazzed. I feel like, ‘Wow, look at what we accomplished.’ As opposed to, ‘Oh so and so is getting another award.’ I’m just being honest. This is different for me. It’s a really wonderful thing. And Cynthia has been an incredible leader of NYWIFT. I love doing it. I really do.
AD: This year’s theme is Art & Advocacy. What are some examples that you’ve seen in this challenging year? And what does ‘Art & Advocacy’ mean to you in the context of 2020 and everything we’ve been through?
CL: Well, for me, I would just say that I’m a true believer that art plus advocacy equals social change. When I think of the most difficult times that I’ve had personally, as well as the current pandemic, the financial crisis, and the civil unrest— we’ve seen creative solutions at every level to get us through this time. And what you will find that is a through-line and common character trait from every one of our honorees is their tenacious spirit, dedication to craft, willingness to try new things, and be bold and brave. And those are the qualities that one needs to get through the current situation. You know, a couple of days ago, I was on a Zoom dinner for The Creative Coalition. We were all talking about how you go up and down in terms of your feelings, sometimes daily, sometimes weekly— ‘It’s going to be all right, we’re going to get through this.’ We’re feeling moments of desperation and then other moments of gratitude. When I think of the Muse Awards and think of this particular batch of honorees, I can’t help thinking that they’re a tenacious spirit and how they’ve excelled in their careers. They all have the kinds of traits that we all need to employ, if you will, to get through this time.
So, Nancy, I don’t know what it means for you, but we’ve seen [NYWIFT] members, as well as these honorees, do extraordinary things during the time.
NG: Yes. I would echo everything that Cynthia said. I don’t think I could say it any better. When civilizations live and die, it’s the art; it’s the artistry that remains. And this has been just an excruciating year on so many levels.
What has been amazing is even at a time where you can’t see live theater and concerts. A lot of the most creative, wonderful things that exist in life have been stymied—people have found ways to express themselves—across the board, regular people, and then these incredible artists that we are saluting through the Muse Awards.
I think maybe because things have been so difficult, a lot of people have, in their way, dug in deeper to try to move things forward. And it’s really been something.
This is kind of unrelated to the Muse Awards. I’m thinking of certain things like some of the gatherings and protest for Black Lives Matter and voting rights, and being in the midst of all of this and people stopping and singing or stopping and doing the electric slide and stuff like that —we’ve been together in a wonderful way. Art really does move the needle forward.
The people that we’ve awarded this year all reflect that. We’ve got the authors of She Said [Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey], the New York Times best-selling book about sexual harassment on the job, and we’ve got wonderful, multicultural artists like Awkwafina who’s getting an award, and Rashida Jones. I feel like everybody that is being honored has done their part to kind of open the lens, widened the lens, tell different stories, and in their way to help move things forward.
That’s one of the reasons why it’s such an inspiring afternoon. This year is going to be more of an inspiring online afternoon, but I think it will still inspire people to look to the future.
AD: Nancy,—and Cynthia, please chime in; I’d love to hear your thoughts as well— a political commentator, obviously these past four years, and this year, in particular, has just been beyond difficult for all those things that you mentioned. How you find that balance in your work, both when you’re hosting something like this, but also being so politically active and socially active. When do you say, ‘I need a break?’ How do you decide how to spend your time and your emotional energy? It’s something that we’re all struggling with right now, and I’m just so curious as to how you handle that?
NG: Yeah, it hasn’t been easy. It’s been hard. I mean, when I first started doing commentary for [CBS] Sunday Morning, George W. Bush was in office, and I took him to task on any number of things. When I look back now on that, those were the salad years, you know? I mean, he messed up in so many ways. He took us to a war that we didn’t need to go to, but that was a man with a beating heart, and a conscience, and somebody who respected the office of the presidency.
Once this dude took over, it kind of lapsed me in a sort of shocked silence. With W., there were some things that maybe I could gently make fun of, or when I was angry, you know, talk about, like with Hurricane Katrina. To me, Trump has been so evil incarnate that in a lot of ways, I haven’t been able to really voice how I felt. Until this year, between George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and the woman in Central Park who confronted the bird watcher with all of it being on video. I had an opportunity on Sunday Morning to address those issues— juxtaposed with another commentator, take on the whole issue of ‘Karens’ and social unrest. And it was a real cathartic thing for me to kind of pour out a lot of things that have been bothering me into this one particular commentary. I feel like I got a chance to let some of the air out.
As for coping mechanisms, I won’t lie— Cynthia chime in too—it’s not easy to try to balance one’s art with what’s going on around you. I mean, I’ve lost some friends, you know? It’s been just a crazy year, yet so many people turned up to vote, and there are so many positive things going on. And like I said, so many moments of grace and artistry. That has helped keep me going and moving. What about you, Cynthia? How have you coped?
CL: This is such an interesting thing because at 6:00 AM this morning, we were trying to lock the show for this Thursday
CL: I was having this conversation with a friend who is by a beach in Massachusetts. And I called her, and I said, ‘I knew you’d be awake.’ And she said, ‘I haven’t slept yet.’ I had to laugh. She’s on deadline with various things. She’s a professor at Emerson, and we said, ‘This has been the busiest time, and we have to learn as women, as human beings, to find balance.
You know, I never thought that I would end up being a chef three times a day, trying to make sure that my niece had everything she needed while she was in high school. I just didn’t factor that in somehow in my plans of working.
NG: My god.
CL: But I want her to eat healthily. And, it takes time it takes to cook, sauté, broccoli, or whatever it is. And I had to be very mindful that for us to develop healthy skills on a personal level, and that’s different from rushing around, but you need time to do it?
Do you know what I mean? I said to my friend, ‘I feel like I’m sautéing vegetables a couple of times a day now, and that wasn’t in my schedule before.
CL: And that’s what she did. She started laughing. She said, ‘Cynthia, that’s a good thing.’ And I said, ‘Well, not when I have 12 other deadlines.’ As a woman, you constantly feel that no matter how much you’re doing, it’s not enough.
NG: it’s so true.
CL: We have to, particularly during this pandemic, sort of quiet down a little bit. I do this at night, very late, where I just try to quiet myself and I try to put on a candle. I try to listen to some soothing music, even if it’s for 15 minutes. And just go internal. I can’t say I really meditate or do yoga, but I just try to be a little quieter during the day and say:
We’re living in a pandemic, and it’s okay if this last thing didn’t get done. I have to be okay with that.
CL: I think I have other friends that, truth be told, they’re really having big issues with balance—either because of the illness. Or because of caregiving.
CL: I think with women, we’re inherently caregivers. And during a pandemic, that particular skill is needed so much that you have to balance. I don’t believe that every single man in my family has the same caregiver trait.
NG: No, they don’t. [laughs]. I don’t even mean to jump in, but I’m living with my boyfriend, and I got to the point where I said to him, ‘If you ask me one more time, what I’m thinking of for dinner, I may punch you in the face.’ And I love him! I’m not used to these constant conversations about meals.
You’re so right, Cynthia. It’s like the lines have gotten so blurred between work and home. There’s a lot of us working at home. It’s just one whole slog of Zoom and then dishwashing.
CL: Yeah, it’s crazy.
AD: I think so many people need to hear that, and I needed to hear that this morning. So thank you. As we close out our time together, I just wanted to give you guys some space for anything you wanted to share that we haven’t discussed?
CL: Sure. I would just say for us if there’s one thing that people can understand about New York Women in Film & Television. Despite being greatly impacted by the pandemic, women continue to overcome obstacles to further their careers and further their goals in life. On the one hand, while I see and sometimes witness despair, I also see how women have been able to overcome despite the current situation. I remain hopeful. When I think of this current situation, I can’t help thinking that we have many women on Capitol that we didn’t have on Capitol Hill.
CL: And I think of the women in Hollywood who had never spoken out before that we’ve seen in the last couple of years, and this is why I’m so thrilled to have [journalists] Megan [Twohey] and Jodi [Kantor] as part of the honorees this year. Because we need women journalists to have a healthy democracy, and as far as I’m concerned, the combination of women in journalism, women in government, and women in the media is a formula for change in the future. And we hope that will continue.
NG: I don’t think it could be said any better than that. What a great way to end the year. And on top of all of that, to have a woman of color as Vice President. It’s just a great testament to everything that we can do.
AD: And tickets for the Muse Awards are ‘pay what you can,’ which I love because it allows anyone who may be struggling a chance to see the event. How else can people support the work of NYWIFT and its members?
CL: Sure. Well, there’s a variety of committees that are posted on our website. We’ve had people with programming success with technology and volunteers to do mailings. There are various ways to engage with people who want to learn more about us. Hopefully, that will continue when we go back to meeting in person.
You mentioned the pay-what-you-can; given that we are in a pandemic, it was very important for us to make sure that anyone who wanted to be inspired by these amazing women could participate.
And I said this before; you can donate as little as $1 to get a ticket. You can donate whatever you can. And then we have encouraged folks that if you really can’t even donate a dollar, then let us know because we want you to listen in on the show. We have a set number of complimentary tickets that we can provide.
AD: That’s wonderful!
NG: Echoing what Cynthia said, it’s important for NYWIFT to just to connect with people that are in this arena, and they have wonderful programs, seminars, mixers, and opportunities for women in film, television, and all of these disciplines to meet and share information. It’s a cool thing. On top of everything else, we encourage people to join as part of the great things they do. And this is a great opportunity for people in that space to engage with NYWIFT. So, check it out
NYWIFT’s 2020 Muse Awards are taking place on December 17. Purchase your tickets here.