May 23, 2024

The drinks were flowing and the guests were energized with a renewed sense of promise as writers gathered to celebrate their Humanitas wins as well as a new deal with the AMPTP at the Humanitas Prizes Toast on Thursday night.

Held almost one month after the WGA ratified its new contract officially ending the summer-long writers strike, this year’s event was moved from its usual hotel ballroom location to Hollywood nightclub Avalon, out of respect for the Local 11 Unite Here hotel workers who remain on strike for fair and livable wages — a cause that all in the room shouted their support for once announced on stage by co-MCs Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair.

The Humanitas board announced this year’s crop of winners in August (instead of the usual live reveal onstage), which included “The Last of Us” writer Craig Mazin, Amy Sherman-Palladino, Joan Rater and Tony Phelan, Tyler Perry, Cooper Raiff, Guillermo del Toro and Patrick McHale, Hernan Barangan, Sabina Vajrača, and Ondi Timoner. Perry and Sherman-Palladino were absent from the night’s celebration amid the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike. WGA West president Meredith Stiehm and Michael Winship, outgoing WGA East president, accepted the 2023 Voices for Change Award on behalf of the WGA as the organization was recognized for its dedication to push a new deal favoring higher wages and sustainable workplace operations.

Several humanitarian initiatives were acknowledged during the brief show, which started around 7:15 p.m. in the main auditorium, including Humanitas’ Groceries for Writers program. Introduced by the organization’s executive director Michelle Franke, the delivery program began as a response to writers’ pressing need for supplies as they embarked on what would become the second-longest strike in WGA history at 148 days (the longest WGA strike took place in 1988 and lasted for 153 days).

“The reason was really simple. Writers are the heart of Humanitas. There’s no us without them. If writers were going to show up to the picket lines daily while also sacrificing and countless other personal and professional ways, we wanted to find a practical contribution to offset their stress during a long and exhausting strike,” said Franke. “With no paychecks for food, we knew they couldn’t stay focused on the fight. And what was being fought for was nothing short of writing as a viable profession.”

After issuing an apology for the lack of response to the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, WGA leaders refrained from further comment at Thursday’s event.

Michael Winship

Stiehm and Winship took the stage with a powerful message instead addressing their clear winning result from their faceoff with the AMPTP, accepting further congratulations and cheers from guild members in the crowd.

“I went back to my emails and I saw that Michelle Franke reached out to us about this award on July 10 – and every writer in this room knows that that was early days in the strike and it was not at all clear if we would succeed or not. It was unknowable,” said Stiehm in the address. “That just tells me that this award is for the effort of the strength, the courage that all the members show by trying to make change not knowing if they would succeed or not.”

The admittedly “unseemly sore winner” continued, adding, “I’m very moved by Humanitas pointing it out early and saying you’re getting this award just for crying out, for having the courage and not knowing what the ending would be. I also have to say, we have so much gratitude for the support during the strike. It was extraordinary what Humanitas has did. Writers started out broke, and five months later they were really broke, and they still are. They still need all the help that you’re giving them and this whole community this whole city 49 states apparently are still helping us and we’re very grateful. So thank you for this.”

“Last Flight Home” creator Timoner took a moment in her speech about her late father being the inspiration behind her film to highlight a letter she received from one of her film’s fans in Israel “because it’s Israel,” she said of her choice.

Earlier, Vajrača, the creator of “Sevap/mitzvah,” which won the short film category, told the audience of her upbringing as a young refugee in Croatia. The filmmaker was forced to flee her home country of Bosnia Herzegovina as a teenager.

“This entire experience really affected me as you can imagine. And I experienced firsthand what it means to be othered and what it means when people function from a place of fear, and tribalism. It is something that has become sort of a mantra of mine a mission of mine to figure out what makes people do this,” Vajrača shared. “I am somebody who doesn’t believe that people are born evil. I think it’s something that we learn at some point. As I kept exploring this, I came across a very clear message, which is that we are the product of the stories we consume. Whether those stories come from our parents, or from the books we read, or a lot of the times from the media we consume.”

“I really hope that all of us in this room writers and supporters of the writers are all going to keep telling stories that encourage us to be human first and foremost. And not to think about labels and tribes and all the other things that separate us,” she concluded.

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