Actor and activist Kal Penn (Harold & Kumar, House, M.D) and actor and artist CCH Pounder (Brothers, Avatar) were among the honorees at the 8th Annual Ivy Bethune Tri-Union Diversity Awards presented August 23 at the Colony Theatre in Burbank, Calif.
The awards recognize performers and arts organizations who, through their work and activism, have fostered diversity within the entertainment and news media industries and their communities, and are presented by the Screen Actors Guild Diversity Committees and the Equal Employment Opportunities Committees of AFTRA and Actors’ Equity Association.
Veteran union member actor/artist CCH Pounder was the Tri-Union honoree for her global work with Arts for a New South Africa and her support of HIV/AIDS awareness programs.
SAG honoree Kal Penn was recognized for his groundbreaking achievements as a pioneering Indian American actor in film and television, and also for his diverse advocacy work as a documentary filmmaker focused on malaria eradication in Ethiopia, his service on an advocacy Board of the American Red Cross, and his recently wrapped post as President Barack Obama’s Associate Director of Public Engagement, where he served as liaison to the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. The award was presented to Penn by his Harold and Kumar co-star John Cho.
In accepting his award, Penn gave credit to the writers and producers who cast color-blind and focus on storytelling, resulting in changing the faces seen in entertainment media. “If you look at what things were like when I was 14 years old, it’s a lot different than what you see today,” Penn said. “Same thing with just five years ago, before shows like Lost or Grey’s Anatomy or The Office hit the air, things were really black-and-white, which is not the way America looks. It’s nice to see characters come around that look like the rest of America and don’t focus on a specific ethnicity or race.”
Other honorees included writer/producer Yvette Lee Bowser (AFTRA honoree), the first African American woman to develop her own primetime television shows, Living Single, and later Half & Half, among other producing and writing credits, was recognized for the success of her shows in encouraging a generation of young adults to reach their full potential and achieve their goals. Deaf West Theatre Company (AEA honoree) was selected in recognition of its work to re-conceive outdated definitions of deaf artists.
The evening was hosted by David Dean Bottrell and performances included a signature work from actress/dancer Zina Bethune and wheelchair artist Lindsay Berkovitz from Bethune TheatreDanse; actors Shoshannah Stern and Matt Jaeger; Bollywood Step Dance; America’s Got Talent semi-finalist Hannibal Means; flamenco dancer Clarita; and performer Mylo Ironbear.
The Ivy Awards were named in honor of actress Ivy Bethune, a veteran member of all three unions who has devoted more than 80 years of her life to civil rights activism and equal opportunity rights. Honorees are selected by a committee of members from each of the three unions. The Tri-Union Diversity Awards Committee Chairs were Leilani Taliaferro (SAG), Shyla La’Sha (AFTRA) and Pat Loeb (AEA).