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Angelina Jolie makes rare appearance, praises 'fearless' poet Amanda Gorman

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 01/10/2021 Pamela Avila, USA TODAY

LOS ANGELES — In a rare public appearance, Angelina Jolie celebrated "the young woman of grace," poet Amanda Gorman, "who stepped fearlessly to the podium on inauguration day." 

On Thursday evening, Jolie wandered around the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills hand-in-hand with daughter Zahara Jolie-Pitt, 16, before awarding Gorman, 23, an honoree at the Variety Power of Women event. 

(L-R) Honoree Amanda Gorman accepts an award from Angelina Jolie onstage during Variety's Power of Women Presented by Lifetime at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on September 30, 2021 in Beverly Hills, California. © Amy Sussman, Getty Images for Variety (L-R) Honoree Amanda Gorman accepts an award from Angelina Jolie onstage during Variety's Power of Women Presented by Lifetime at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on September 30, 2021 in Beverly Hills, California.

"The Amanda we see today might seem as if she leapt into our times, fully formed, to summon our better angels," Jolie began her speech. "But there was an Amanda we didn't see."

"In her own words, 'a buck-toothed, kinky-haired, speech-garbled 7-year-old.' Scribbling in her journal, on the school bus and park bench, wrestling with language, puzzling out meaning and rhyme, inventing her own dictionary. All those hours of thought and creation forged the unfaltering woman you see today," Jolie said.

Before her words touched millions, Gorman was a mentee finding her voice at Los Angeles-based non-profit organization, WriteGirl, which she was representing Thursday night. "My origin story started there," she said in playback footage at the top of the reception. Then the world was introduced to her talents when she became the nation's first National Youth Poet Laureate and on a grander scale in January when she became the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history. 

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 30: (L-R) Zahara Jolie-Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and Amanda Gorman attend Variety's Power of Women Presented by Lifetime at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on September 30, 2021 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Variety) ORG XMIT: 775703437 ORIG FILE ID: 1344184522 © Emma McIntyre, Getty Images for Variety BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 30: (L-R) Zahara Jolie-Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and Amanda Gorman attend Variety's Power of Women Presented by Lifetime at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on September 30, 2021 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Variety) ORG XMIT: 775703437 ORIG FILE ID: 1344184522

And during a time "when so many people feel lost," Jolie applauded Gorman for helping us put those feelings into words. (An unmistakable theme of Thursday night's opening remarks and speeches was Texas' near-total abortion ban. Alyssa Milano said, "This is the most dangerous time to be a woman in my life.") 

Praising Gorman's ability to craft thoughtful and critical work, Jolie said: "If ever we needed words that can lead us and bring people to the streets, it is now." 

In concluding her powerful speech, Jolie honored not only the poet beside her, but the 7-year-old Gorman, "and every other girl who feels she is an outsider, alone, when she is simply coming into her own." 

"There is nothing more beautiful, more challenging and perhaps, more unsettling, than the free mind of the thinking woman," Jolie said, before pausing to cheers and applause. "And that is surely why so much effort is put into constraining her. It is why those who have the power of free speech — the weapon of free speech — much combine to defend those who do not. We need voices like Amanda's, those lights in the dark," Jolie said. "May you burn fiercely, and light the way for others." 

Back in full swing and in-person for the first time since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both unmasked and masked attendees capped off September with a fully outdoors cocktail hour and awards reception. Attendees were required to show proof of vaccination and present a negative COVID test within 72 hours of the event.

The event, in partnership with Lifetime, also honored trailblazing entertainment executive Channing Dungey (represented Children's Institute), two-time Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Lorde (represented 350 Aotearoa), EGOT winning actress Rita Moreno (represented RotaCare Bay Area) and global pop superstar, Katy Perry (represented Firework Foundation). 

Here are more highlights from the night: 

Rita Moreno can 'do it all'

Honoree Rita Moreno accepts an award onstage during Variety's Power of Women Presented by Lifetime at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on September 30, 2021 in Beverly Hills, California. © Amy Sussman, Getty Images for Variety Honoree Rita Moreno accepts an award onstage during Variety's Power of Women Presented by Lifetime at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on September 30, 2021 in Beverly Hills, California.

Before introducing honoree Moreno to the stage, "One Day at a Time" co-showrunner Gloria Calderón Kellett reflected on seeing the legend onscreen growing up, from "Singing in the Rain" to "The King and I." 

"I mean this woman, this Latina, could do it all," Kellett said. "And because she could do it, it made me feel like I could do it, too." 

Kellett called casting Moreno in the newly imagined "One Day at a Time" a "literal dream" and commended "her hero" for not only entertaining us but fighting for representation and inclusivity in the industry for decades. 

"Given my background, feeling powerful is a significant reality," Moreno said. "Growing up as a young Latina immigrant in a racist and patriarchal society, I honestly couldn't even imagine what that might have felt like. It was so out of reach. All I could muster was the inner strength to work toward my dream of becoming a successful actress. But the struggle was a daily reality, and sadly, sometimes still is."

Katy Perry praises fiancé Orlando Bloom

Honoree Katy Perry accepts an award onstage during Variety's Power of Women Presented by Lifetime at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on September 30, 2021 in Beverly Hills, California. © Amy Sussman, Getty Images for Variety Honoree Katy Perry accepts an award onstage during Variety's Power of Women Presented by Lifetime at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on September 30, 2021 in Beverly Hills, California.

After "CBS This Morning" host Gayle King introduced the pop star to the stage, Perry shared the honor with her sister, Angela, and co-founder of her own Firework Foundation. Perry thanked her for keeping her "focused on the greater good, holding my feet to the fire, (and) keeping me accountable." 

Perry, who looked smitten on the carpet alongside Bloom (before he stepped to the sidelines as she continued giving press interviews), gave him credit for being "an incredible father" and "an example to our greatest gift ever, our daughter Daisy Dove." 

Before her unexpected live performance of "What Makes a Woman," Perry continued gushing over Bloom: "Orlando, a man that is a friend and an ally to women all around the world. Thank you for handling the insanity of my life through love and grace."

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