Fashion became political in the ballroom of the Four Seasons Hotel on Wednesday evening in Los Angeles.
“I was told that I had to dress up for tonight,” Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad told the crowd at Time’s Women of the Year gala. “So my husband said, ‘Think about it.’ I spent two hours. I came back home and said, ‘I bought it.’ This is it.”
She held up a white scarf as the room filled with laughter.
“There is a story behind it,” she continued. “I bought this for tonight, because this should be on my head and cover my massive hair. And if I don’t cover my hair, I get killed.”
The audience went silent as Alinejad listed the names of women killed in Iran. She wore their faces on her T-shirt, giving a voice to people like Mahsa Amini — the young woman who died in police custody after being detained in Tehran for reportedly not wearing her hijab appropriately. Iranian women have been burning their hijabs and cutting their hair in protests over her death.
“I came here to tell you that I dedicated tonight to the women of Iran,” said Alinejad, who’s been the target of an assassination plot, as widely reported. “Many Western feminists, they bow to [the] Islamic Republic. They covered their hair. Don’t. Believe me, supporting your sisters does not make yourself Islamophobic. My mom wears the hijab. My mom is a true representative of my culture, not the Islamic Republic. The Islamic Republic is a gender apartheid regime…Don’t believe those who tell you that, ‘We will let them deal with their own problems, let them deal and fix their own problems.’ We have to keep the sisterhood. We have to hug each other, and we have to stick together.”
While receiving a standing ovation, she embraced fellow honoree, actor and UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) ambassador Cate Blanchett. Cameras flashed in their direction.
“I must admit, I am completely and utterly humbled and overwhelmed to be in this room, to be in a room with so many heroes, heroines,” said Blanchett when she took the mic. “I’m so stressed I even took off my bra.”
It was back to laughter — which is how the night began with a speech from Emmy winner Quinta Brunson.
“I chose to toast to laughter, because laughter is a very important part of my life,” said Brunson. “Laughter, always regarded as the best medicine. I do think the best medicine is Pepto Bismol.” She paused to guffaws. “I had food poisoning recently, and I will never make fun of the Pepto Bismol jingle again…After that, actually, everyone was like, ‘Oh my god, you look so good. Ozempic?’ ‘No, food poisoning.’”
Academy Award nominee Angela Bassett — up for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars on Sunday for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” — came next, taking on a more serious tone: “I have been asked throughout this award season, just what having this Oscar nomination 29 years since my last means to me.” It was in 1994 that she was nominated for portraying Tina Turner in “What’s Love Got to Do with It.”
“You see, when I came into this business the path was not clear,” she went on. “I grew up at a time when it was a special occasion when people who looked like me were featured on the television screen or movie screen or in the theaters…When I think about what this Oscar nomination means, I will humbly say that it will be part of my legacy as a woman, as a Black woman and as a Black actress who dared to dream that I could continue the journey of the women who came before me in this business.”
The four were honored alongside soccer player and equal pay advocate Megan Rapinoe; professional boxer and refugee supporter Ramla Ali; environmental and human rights defender Ayisha Siddiqa; Ukrainian women’s and LGBT rights activist Olena Shevchenko; incoming chief executive officer of Suntory Beverages and Food Makiko Ono; reproductive rights activist Verónica Cruz Sánchez; Brazil’s Minister of Racial Equality Anielle Franco, and musical artist Phoebe Bridgers — the night’s performer.
“I want to focus more on doing and on listening…My job really is as a storyteller,” added Blanchett. “And to be a good storyteller, you really need to listen to the stories that are not being told.”