Between the annual roast and parade around Cambridge, the Woman of the Year ceremony is usually a light-hearted affair for Harvard's Hasty Pudding. However, this year's festivities honoring Mila Kunis ended up taking a backseat to controversies surrounding the theatrical group's long-standing tradition of only featuring male cast members in its productions.
Following a backlash from critics who called on Kunis to skip this year's event, both the actress and the organization decided to address the issue head on during Thursday's ceremony. Hasty Pudding president Amira Weeks revealed prior to the start of the roast that, beginning in 2019, women will finally be allowed to join the cast.
"The Hasty Pudding welcomes women to audition and to give equal opportunity to play those roles based on the quality of their individual talents," Weeks told the crowd while reading a letter from the group's governing board. "The world is in a very different place. We are very proud to take this organization forward as a leader in women’s rights and gender equality."
- Celebrity deaths 2018: All the stars we lost too soon 44 Pictures
- SantaCon descends upon NYC (photos) 15 Pictures
The announcement received a standing ovation from the audience, as well as praise from the guest of honor. During a tense press conference on Thursday afternoon, Kunis told the media that she knew changes were under way at Hasty Pudding before accepting the honor and "wouldn’t be here otherwise."
"It wasn’t a stipulation, it was just something, to me, that was very important," Kunis said. "To clarify, this is something that this program has always wanted to do. It has nothing to do with me or today, it’s simply something that was going to happen inevitably."
The Golden Globe-nominated star, who's been a fierce critic of sexism in Hollywood, also wanted to point out that Hasty Pudding isn't a "male-driven organization," noting how the group includes women in a variety of roles behind the scenes. Kunis took issue with a recent column by the Boston Globe that urged her to turn down the honor from what the paper called a "sexist throwback."
"To also clarify to the Boston Globe, if you’re going to ask somebody to not show up, it’s a pretty weak stance to take," Kunis said. "Backing down is not taking a stance."
"The one thing that the reporter failed to report on is the fact that most of Hasty Pudding is women," she added. "One thing people didn’t realize is there’s 12 performers on stage, but there’s 48 other people that are putting the whole show together, and a lot of them are women. So this production has been forward thinking for many years, for decades."
Kunis wanted to make sure that the students received proper credit for making this change happen as well.
"The kids – and by the kids I mean everybody in the Hasty Pudding – have been trying for years to make this happen," Kunis said. "I don’t want that to be taken away from the students, the infrastructure, that they’ve been fighting for this and have wanted this. They’re the reason this happened."
You can watch the full press conference in the video below.