Ferrera received the award for her advocacy for gender equality and portrayal of authentic, stereotype-defying characters
Robbie, 33, introduced Ferrera, 39, with a touching speech about how the Superstore actress has impacted the film and television industry by telling stories about complex women. She also noted Ferrera's distinction as the "first and only" Latina to win the Emmy for lead actress in a comedy for her role in Ugly Betty.
"I imagine being the first in any field can be isolating. I imagine it puts an enormous pressure on you to be perfect, to play it safe," Robbie said. "But what I admire the most about America is how she has handled that pressure while never being afraid to continue to speak the truth when it counts the most."
After Ferrera took the stage, she launched into a passionate speech about what the SeeHer Award meant to her, and shared that the honor "couldn't be more meaningful to me" due to her roots.
"I yearned to see people like myself on screen as full humans. When I started working over 20 years ago, that seems impossible, I know. It seemed impossible that anyone could make a career of portraying fully dimensional Latina characters," she said. "But because of writers, producers and directors... I and some of my fellow Latina colleagues have been supremely blessed to have brought to life some fierce and fantastic women."
Her speech appeared to have touched many women in the audience including Brie Larson, who appeared to tear up during her speech, and Taraji P. Henson who was caught nodding along to what Ferrera was saying. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants star also dedicated a part of her speech to Barbie director Greta Gerwig.
"Thank you for proving through your incredible mastery as a filmmaker that women's stories have no difficulty achieving cinematic greatness and box office history at the same time," Ferrera said to the director. "And that unabashedly telling female stories does not diminish your powers, it expands them."
"Thank you to our Kens, Noah Baumbach... [and] Ryan Gosling for all being man enough to support women's work, you are all brilliant and you are all 'Kenough,' " she added.
She even added a shoutout to her husband, Ryan Piers Williams, who also made a cameo in Barbie, saying, "You see me and my dreams and you believe and support them as if they were your own, I love you."
The SeeHer Award was established in 2017 as a collaboration between the Critics Choice Association and an international marketing and media organization collective. The award honors the silver screen’s leading ladies who advocate for gender equality and portray authentic, boundary-pushing characters.
The Ugly Betty star launched the digital lifestyle community Poderistas with nine prominent activists and businesswomen including Eva Longoria. Poderistas looks to uplift Latina women to inspire and make change in their lives, communities and nation. Ferrera’s activism also extends to public speaking, with appearances at TED, the DNC, March for Our Lives and on several television documentaries.
In Barbie, Ferrera delivers a rousing speech that serves as one of the film’s keystone moments. Ferrera’s Gloria inspires a despondent Barbie by explaining why it is “literally impossible to be a woman.” The emotional scene — which the actress said she ran “probably 30 to 50” times — brought on-set crew members to tears, according to writer-director Gerwig.
Audiences reacted similarly. “I’ve had a lot of moms come up to me and say, ‘I was watching with my kids, and afterward they said, ‘Why were you crying?’ ” she told PEOPLE.
"You know that, 'You're so beautiful. You're so smart and kills me that you don't think you're good enough.' That was pretty good," Costner said to a surprised Ferrera.
Barbie leads the nominations at this year’s Critics Choice Awards with a record-breaking 18. Among them, Ferrera received a best supporting actress nod, along with best actress for Robbie and best supporting actor for Gosling.
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