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Inspirational Women In Hollywood: How Cynthia Lopez of New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT) Is Helping To Shake Up The Entertainment Industry

[NYWIFT Executive Director Cynthia Lopez]

Here we are 41 years later and while women have definitely made many, many gains in this industry, more than ever we need to recognize women storytellers, women who work as part of the industry greenlighting films and television shows, actresses, actors, people who are advocating for different voices to be heard within popular culture.

Formidable women in film and television have been honored for their diverse accomplishments for four decades, and there is tradition will not be quelled, even during a global health pandemic.

Today, Thursday, December 17, the 41st Annual NYWIFT Muse Awards, taking place virtually is being hosted by New York Women in Film & Television, celebrates women of outstanding vision and achievement both in front of and behind the camera in film, television, the music industry, and digital media.

The event will be held virtually beginning at 1:00 PM ET and available for all those who register to watch online at nywift.org/muse. This year’s theme is “Art & Advocacy,” as NYWIFT recognizes the role of the creative community in advancing positive social change.

Guests at this year’s awards include Golden Globe Winning Actress Awkwafina (The Farewell), Two-Time Golden Globe Winning Actress Rachel Brosnahan (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), Grammy Award-Winning Actress Rashida Jones, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times Journalists Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey, President of Orion Pictures Alana Mayo, Award-Winning Director Gina Prince-Bythewood, And Tony Award-Winning Actress Ali Stroker.

Cynthia Lopez, NYWIFT Executive Director, recently spoke about the major strides of women in film, television, and other aspects of the arts.

[New York Women in Film & Television Celebrates is 41st MUSE Awards]

Cynthia, so great to speak with you. How long have you been involved with New York Women in Film & Television?

This will be my second year as executive director, but I have been a member for many years.

Why is the MUSE Awards important to not only you and other empowered women but the industry as a whole?

But to answer your question, for me what’s so exciting about MUSE is that this is the 41st year of MUSE. And MUSE was started by the initial founding group of New York Women Film & Television. And it was started when women were not being recognized for their talents and contributions to the media industry.

Here we are 41 years later and while women have definitely made many, many gains in this industry, more than ever we need to recognize women storytellers, women who work as part of the industry greenlighting films and television shows, actresses, actors, people who are advocating for different voices to be heard within popular culture.

I’ve been covering this event in person for maybe five years, and so I’ve had the chance of being on the red carpet with Blythe Danner and Sarah Jessica Parker. And last year I worked with [Harriet director] Kasi Lemmons, and pop icon Gloria and Emilio Estefan.

I have to say last year as it being my first official year as executive director, I was so pleased when you mentioned Gloria Estefan. I had seen her, I was invited to the awards that were held in Washington, D.C. because they were getting the major award at the Kennedy Center. And I saw their performance and obviously really have followed her work over the years. And I approached them at that time to see if she would consider accepting the MUSE Award and she said, “Yes, absolutely.”

And just from my perspective, again as a musician, as one of the first women to do the honors, as a Latina, when we look at Oprah and we look at what Ava [DuVernay] is doing, and now Gloria Estefan along with her partners have purchased Tyler Perry’s studio. We see that women are taking their rightful place in the media and the entertainment industry at all levels. And this has always felt to me, it’s a community event, not just an awards ceremony. It’s a holiday community event if you will.

What is a recent story about the MUSE awards you would like to share?

I remember the year before as you said when Sarah Jessica Parker was one of the honorees, I was walking into the Hilton and she was walking into the building by herself. And for two seconds I had to sort of do a double-take and I was like, “Yes, that’s her!” And there was a group of younger women who were entering the MUSE Awards, and they just said “Hello” and she said “Hello” back. It was just one of those New York moments, very equalizing if you will because our honorees have always been so approachable. And at the same token, it’s like New York, you walk down the block and you see people who you revere in many ways for their talents, their craft, and the way they live their lives. And so, this event celebrates that aspect, which I think is so wonderful, and it does it during the holidays.

What is the history of this December event?

I spoke to one of the founders at the beginning of my tenure as executive director, and she said, “We always wanted to be the holiday lunch because we looked at the awards cycle when the Emmy’s were and the Oscar’s were, and et cetera, et cetera. And we just felt, when is it best to celebrate women?” And ironically, she said we wanted to stay away from the whole Women’s History Month. We wanted it to be different. And when do women get the chance to be with their families and at the same token be able to celebrate in an interesting way? And that’s why December was chosen.

[Film actress Awkwafina]

Have you previously worked with Awkwafina and Rachel’s teams?

With Awkwafina’s team, in full disclosure, I have not. Since that award is presented in part by the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, they were the direct liaison to their team. But in terms of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s team, we did, and we can provide you through Steve the information of Designing Women. Because last year they came and presented the award that we were giving to the makeup and costume ensemble for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. And so I did get to share some interesting moments with them on the red carpet.

And that’s an amazing team, so we were so delighted that when we extended the invitation this year, that she accepted, that Rachel accepted. I’m just looking at the paperwork, they received a variety, and Rachel came to the awards ceremony. We held it for the first time at DGA’s Theater, Directors Guild of America’s Theater, and she came and presented the award for costume, hair, and makeup.

The show is so beautiful and creator Amy Sherman-Palladino has often said in our interviews that one of the keys is the color palette and attention to detail. And that if wasn’t for these amazing costumes, and just the right touch of lipstick, and the shoes and everything, even with the amazing acting it just couldn’t work.

Absolutely, well the dresses are a key to me. I had said this to the costume and makeup people when I was a kid we used to go up to the Poconos and we stayed a week. And I remember those little cotton dresses that were those floral dresses that she looked so beautiful in. And, of course, as a kid, we always had to have the culottes we used to call them. That was probably way before your time, but I’m 55, and the culottes and the little things that we would wear at night. And they just captured that era so well, from set design to costume to makeup, and of course then the superb acting for sure.

[TV and film actress Rachel Brosnahan]

When you think about your daughter and all of our daughters, what is the important message 41 years later that we need to continue to reinforce?

I do think of particularly this is the first year that NYWIFT special events committee has ever selected to have a theme. And part of the reason for that was we did see members helping each other. We had one member that did a food drive, and we can get you her name and contact information, etcetera. But she did a food drive and she started something called Feed the Freelancers at the top of COVID-19 because she was very concerned. She got donations from various places to be able to give out food to not only NYWIFT members but other members in the media and entertainment industry that were freelancers.

Please tell me more.

And so it became important for us to look critically at, “Okay, art and advocacy.” And to me, art plus advocacy equals social change. And I think for our daughters and sons, and for the next generation, what’s exciting about MUSE and the takeaway about MUSE is that our communities of women storytellers, executives, creatives, and people who make movies happen, I say make the magic happen, are changing and are reflecting more. As we were just talking about The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, for me when I think about this year and I think of films like The Farewell and the other films that have been done like Love & Basketball, the many films that are reflected by our honorees this year, we see that the female storyteller is expressing a different kind of story and a story that’s unique to women.

And the next generation, what’s exciting about that from my perspective is that there will be more inclusivity as we continue to move forward. And I’m hoping what was very, very difficult to attain many years ago will over time be less difficult to attain in terms of position, stature, and impact. So I always say this to my goddaughter who I live with, even during corona, the COVID virus, we have to look at what obstacles are in front of us and find a way to overcome them. And that’s what I think every woman in this industry has had to do. And even you as a journalist have had to do. Nothing in our careers has been easy. It’s very few steps in anyone’s career that one can say have been easy. And these women who we are honoring definitely have overcome many obstacles to get to the level of excellence that they currently operate at.

I think as women in the media and the arts/entertainment we often are faced with naysayers who try to tell us to give up before we can get going.

Well, I have to say the tenaciousness that you’re talking about, every woman who works in the media and entertainment field, I always say there has to be three ingredients. One is tenaciousness, two is actually the work on her craft, and three is just a sheer determination to make things happen, and a will if you will. Some people have asked me, “You’ve done many things from raising money for public libraries to working at public television, even a commissioner. And now you’re at NYWIFT.” And I say, “Well my through-line is I was always working my perspective in media, but definitely with a public interest agenda.” I accept “No” when people say, “No, I can’t do that.” But then I move on swiftly to find someone who will say yes. And so I think everyone like yourself, who has been successful in this field, have had to do that.

I would just encourage people to watch the show virtually. The MUSE 2020 Awards will be Thursday, Dec. 17 at 1 p.m. ET. Eastern Standard Time virtually. And for more information, it’s www.nywift.org/muse for ticketing.

We did do the tickets this year as a pay as you can, so you can watch the show for as little as $1. And I’ve said to folks, if you can’t afford to pay because you’re not working, please let us know. And we do have a limited number of complimentary tickets we can make available to folks who want to participate in the show and can’t afford a donation at this time.

The other thing that I would mention is that we do have an educational partner, CUNY-TV, and so the show will be broadcast in the spring in March as part of Women’s History Month.

Thank you, it has been a pleasure.

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Debra Wallace

Debra Wallace

Writer, autism activist, motivational speaker; all with the intent of improving the world one story at a time.

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