Also winning in the 30-minute television category was ‘The Big Bang Theory’ episode “Long Distance Dissonance.”
The 43rd Annual Humanitas Prize ceremony once again continued to distinguish itself from the more standard awards fetes of the season by rewarding film and television writers for their projects that promoted human dignity, meaning, freedom and compassion.
And Humanitas spread its own benevolence a little further this year by naming two movie winners in the feature drama category: The Post and Mudbound.
“This is an awesome two for one deal – this is crazy!” said The Post’s co-screenwriter Liz Hannah from the stage at the Beverly Hilton Hotel’s Beverly Hills Ballroom, then struck a sobering note when she added that it felt a bit bizarre celebrating in the wake of this week’s deadly school shooting in Florida.
“We get to dream the world into a better place, and this week we got reminded about what the world actually is, which is children being gunned down at a school where they should be safe,” said Hannah. “Let’s just try to make the world better and nicer. We have the chance to do that.”
Hannah’s co-screenwriter Josh Singer, noting that the monetary prizes awarded by the various non-profit organizations supporting Humanitas are donated to charitable causes, suggested that the Committee for Freedom of the Press might be a worthy recipient given the current White House enmity toward the press that parallels The Post’s plotline.
Singer recalled a conversation with Marty Barron, current editor-in-chief of the modern Washington Post, who “expressed no small anxiety about what this administration might do and how it might come after the press in the next year as they continue to get squeezed, so this is something we should all consider giving money to.”
Mudbound’s co-writer and director Dee Rees told THR prior to the ceremony that the import of Humanitas’ mission weighed heavily in her mind.
“For me, it makes me think about Pariah, and when I wrote that film I needed a way to come out for myself, I needed a way to navigate things I was encountering in my own life,” said Rees. “I never expected it would help so many people with their own journeys, and over the years I’ve come alive to that. People say films change lives, or film will change ideas, and sometimes you doubt whether it does, but through Pariah I understood the power of culture.”
“Humanitas means something, because it means Mudbound is doing some work in that way, too,” Rees added. “I live in a majority white town, and my plumber, who knows nothing about me, was probably a Trump voter, says ‘Hey, I watched this film and I loved it,’ it’s huge – and I hadn’t mentioned it to him. I hadn’t told him anything about it, but he figured it out. When it has that kind of unexpected reach, it’s exciting.”
From the stage co-screenwriter Virgil Williams said films like Mudbound are a vital voice in a particularly volatile moment of social change.
“We have messed around and gotten ourselves into a second civil rights movement,” said Williams. “And it’s not just about black folks: it’s about women; it’s about the LGBTQ community; it’s about our Muslim brothers and sisters; it is about humans, and it is about every kid out there who considers himself or herself ‘Other.’”
Accepting the prize for family feature, Ferdinand co-screenwriter Robert L. Baird recalled the social impact of the source material – author Munroe Leaf’s 1936 children’s book about a pacifist-minded bull – that inspired the animated film.
“The book become an instant children’s classic,” said Baird. “It was beloved by everyone – except Hitler, who thought it was a subversive tale about anti-fascism and had it banned and burned. When your kids’ book is pissing off Hitler, you know you’re doing something right. So Hitler, or a modern-day Hitler, would’ve hated the movie, and I really love that.”
Also victorious was Lady Bird, winning for the Feature Comedy category, although screenwriter Greta Gerwig was not on hand to collect her honor.
Writer-producer David Shore, who won in the 60-minute television category for the pilot episode of The Good Doctor admitted that he accepted the award with a healthy dose of ambivalence.
“I have long believed that the idea of judging artistic merit on some kind of objective scale is just a fool’s game,” he explained. “It works fine when I lose, but winning this award becomes a situation where I have to go “Thank you for acknowledging that I have inspired humanity, compassion and love – better than any of the other nominees, or anybody else who wrote a 60-minute script this year.’ I just can’t do that – but as I stand here I’m tempted to.”
Still, he acknowledged the significance of the occasion.
“Even if I’m completely right, even if every single one of these awards are, in fact, nonsense, what is not nonsense are the words we write and the words we’ve heard tonight. And I am inspired by these people and I am proud to be in this room…Everybody in this room has something to say.”
Also winning in the 30-minute television category was The Big Bang Theory episode “Long Distance Dissonance.”
Veteran writer-producer John Scaret Young was bestowed the Kieser Award – named For Humanitas founder Father Ellwood “Bud” Kieser – from his longtime friend and colleague Carlton Cuse, for Young’s remarkable track record of challenging, deeply humanistic projects, including the acclaimed TV series her created, China Beach, as a supervising producer on The West Wing and for television films such as Thanks of a Grateful Nation, Sirens and King of the World.
Young recalled his own professional and personal relationship with Keiser – Young penned the Kieser-produced telepic Romero about Archbishop Oscar Romero – recalling the 6’7” priest/producer as “literally and figuratively a giant”
“What is Humanitas, what was Bud Kieser really about…tilting at windmills in Hollywood, giving awards to writers?” said Young. “He believed in the power of story to do that, and in the talent and fundamental importance of writers. To seek out, search and seize what hasn’t been unearthed before, or what needs to be sought after and illuminated again…never, never, never, never more than now.”
Also honored was The CW’s Senior Vice President Traci Blackwell, who accepted the inaugural Humanitas Voice for Change award.
“I’m told I that am the first person to receive this particular Humanitas, and to be chosen to for honor that is given for being a voice of change and what that represents is not lost on me,” said Blackwell. “It has always been very important to me to fight for the voice of writers, for them to be able to tell their stories the way they see it, to support and protect their vision. Now, I know that sounds odd coming from a television network executive…I have really tried not to be that kind of executive. Sometimes the best note is no note. Sometimes the best gift we can give writers is to get out of the way.”