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Laura Dern Honored at EMA Awards, Calls for New Approach to Climate Conversation: “The Difference Between Saving America and Scolding It”

After a strike-related delay, the Environmental Media Association held its 33rd annual awards gala on Saturday, recognizing Hollywood productions for their sustainability efforts both onscreen and behind the scenes. Avatar: The Way of Water, Extrapolations, Unstable and documentary Common Ground were among the night’s winners, with Laura Dern also being recognized with the EMA Ongoing Commitment Award for her activism in the fight against climate change.

At the event, held at Los Angeles’ Sunset Las Palmas Studios, Dern — who narrates and produced Common Ground, which follows the pioneers of the regenerative farming movement and the ways it may save the planet — began her speech by shouting out her collaborators on the film. She also praised her longtime publicist Annett Wolf and those who “walk the walk” like environmental icon Ed Begley Jr.

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She also noted her “original heroes, my mother Diane Ladd and her beloved friend, Jane Fonda. A beacon of fighting for equality and justice in all things who, alongside my mom, got me marching for the first time at age 6 — I am so grateful, Jane,” Dern said, as Fonda sat in the crowd. She then pivoted to a more urgent message, noting, “tonight we gather in a moment of crisis. Our planet, like our democracy, is under threat.”

The star said that “the painful truth remains that despite our efforts, we are not yet winning this battle. We are not yet spurring our entire planet to action, or persuading the people who disagree with us.” She asked the crowd to consider why. She pointed out how many people in red states are experiencing climate change, whether seeing its effect on the agriculture industry or experiencing rising ocean temperatures and increasingly dangerous storms, and yet “are actively resisting the work we’re asking them to do, work that will save their farms and rivers and towns.”

“I propose it’s because they’ve been told we’re crazy. The news they watch has convinced them that we love open borders, caravans of criminals, smash and grab, cancel culture and late-term abortions on demand. They also think we’re elitist, and it’s not hard to see why. Go on Twitter some time, notice how often people you follow talk about how dumb MAGA is,” she continued of Democrats. “Polling tells us that for conservative voters, most congressional elections in this country come down to a simple choice: ‘The Republican was a jerk, the Democrat was an elitist, and at least the jerk never made me feel dumb.’ This is the difference between saving America and scolding it… we need to find a new language, one that works not just in Los Angeles at a fundraiser but in Iowa and Oklahoma and West Virginia.”

“We must recognize, finally, that the people we need to persuade are afraid too, maybe of us,” she said. “Building these bridges will not be without its hurdles, but we will succeed because a majority of Americans fundamentally want community not chaos, just as they want votes not violence, laws not lies, books not bans, and truth not tantrums.”

Dern suggested speaking less about climate change and more about climate rescue, as well as spending less time accusing and more time listening and telling stories. “Let’s place the American farmer who is fighting to change the system and bring us healthy, non-toxic food at the very center of our stories,” she added. “Let’s see all of us not as heroes or villains, but as a community standing together fighting for what’s right.”

Dern was presented her award by close friend Sheryl Crow, who performed three of her hit songs and celebrated Dern for “showing up in authentic ways for the people and causes she holds dear — and when she says she is desperate to find a way to better the world, this is not a soundbite, it is not a photo opp, it’s a total commitment to what she believes in. When you talk about leaving a campground nicer than how you found it, that is how Laura Dern lives.”

The night, of which The Hollywood Reporter was a sponsor, was hosted by Lance Bass, Cheri Oteri and Melissa Peterman, with an afterparty performance by DJ Samantha Ronson. Fonda, Begley Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, David E. Kelley, Eli Roth, Extrapolations creator Scott Z. Burns, Auliʻi Cravalho, Ian Somerhalder, Nikki Reed, Malin Åkerman, Natalie Morales, Rainn Wilson, John Owen Lowe, Drew Scott and CEO Debbie Levin were among the attendees, and Avatar producer Jon Landau appeared virtually to accept the feature film award.

See a full list of winners below:

FEATURE FILM

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery – Netflix
White Noise – Netflix
Avatar: The Way of Water – Walt Disney Studios / Lightstorm Entertainment (WINNER)

PAUL JUNGER WITT COMEDY AWARD

Unstable “Unstable” – Netflix (WINNER)
Mulligan “Opening Day” – Netflix
Poker Face “The Stall” – Peacock, T-Street, MRC Television, Animal Pictures

DOCUMENTARY FILM

Deep Rising – The Film Collaborative
Common Ground – Big Picture Ranch (WINNER)
From Devil’s Breath – MSNBC Films, TIME Studios, Day Zero Productions, Sugar23, Mainstay, P&G Studios, Grain Media, Appian Way

DOCUMENTARY SERIES

Frozen Planet II “Frozen Worlds”– A BBC, Discovery Channel, Antena 3 Television S.A., ZDF, Skai, Open University co-production in association with Discovery Canada for BBC America
Down to Earth with Zac Efron “Eco Innovators” – Netflix
Downey’s Dream Cars “Electric Stingray”– Max in association with Boat Rocker’s Matador Content and Team Downey (WINNER)

REALITY TELEVISION

Queer Eye “Sowing the Seeds” – Netflix
The Reluctant Traveler “South Africa” – Apple TV+
What Am I Eating? With Zooey Deschanel “Stop Ghosting Greens” – HBO | Max (Warner Bros. Discovery) (WINNER)
The Big Brunch “Farm to Table Brunch” – HBO | Max (Warner Bros. Discovery)

VARIETY TELEVISION

A Black Lady Sketch Show “Pre Ph.D, Based on a Novel by Sapphire” – HBO in association with For Better or Words, Inc., Hoorae, 3 Arts Entertainment and Jax Media
Monumental “Ellie Goulding at Kew Gardens” – Amazon Studios, Freevee (WINNER)
The Talk “Earth Day” – CBS/Paramount Global

TELEVISION EPISODIC DRAMA

Extrapolations “Whale Fall” – Apple TV+ (WINNER)
The Last of Us “When You’re Lost in the Darkness”– HBO in association with Sony Pictures Television Studios, PlayStation Productions, Word Games, The Mighty Mint, and Naughty Dog

CHILDREN’S TELEVISION

Spirit Rangers “Water Protectors” – Netflix
We Baby Bears “Rexford’s Nectar” – Cartoon Network Studios
Jane “Apis Mellifera” – Sinking Ship Entertainment in association with Apple (WINNER)

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