The event, held in downtown Los Angeles, welcomed hundreds of ticketed guests to hear from participants including Jennifer Garner, Mindy Kaling, Tracee Ellis Ross, Allyson Felix, The Home Edit’s Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin, Eve Rodsky, Hannah Bronfman, Cheryl Strayed and an afternoon performance by Dove Cameron.
Fortune Feimster kicked off the day with a short standup set, followed by Witherspoon taking the stage to discuss her journey to launching Hello Sunshine in 2016. She recalled how few women-centered stories she was seeing at the time, despite women consuming two to three times more media than men.
“After I did a whole lot of soul searching and a lot of complaining to anyone who would listen, namely my mother, I realized what so many people in this room have realized, is that if you want to fix a problem, you have to be part of the solution. I would like to also point out women are always part of the solution,” she said, noting, “We’ve had enough of people telling our stories for us. One of the biggest rules in my family is you get to tell your own news, and a version of that in Hello Sunshine terms is women get to tell their own stories.”
The star also commented on holding the event amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, saying, “I am a mom first before anything, and watching the Jewish lives that have been lost, the Palestinian lives that have been lost, it’s just devastating. And I don’t profess to be any sort of expert on war or conflict in the Middle East so I’m not going to speak about that, but I do want you to know that for my team and myself, our hearts are broken and we just want to close our eyes and just send love and light to everyone who is suffering right now in the world.”
To start off the day of programming, Witherspoon joined Garner and Kaling for a panel conversation moderated by AT&T chief marketing officer Kellyn Smith Kenny. The group was not able to specifically talk about their past projects due to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike, but spoke about their entrepreneurial and philanthropic work outside of acting, as well as their friendship.
Witherspoon recalled reaching out to Kaling about working together after reading her book Why Not Me?, and getting close to Garner after connecting over a children’s charity.
“These two women are two of the first people that I called when I did Hello Sunshine. I was like, ‘Will you work with me, how can we work together?’ I pitched Mindy 17 podcasts that we still never did. I was like, ‘What about this one where we just a watch a rom-com and drink wine? Is that a podcast or is that like a Friday night?’” Witherspoon joked. “And of course I called Jen every time I’d read a great book like, ‘Do you want to star in this? OK, but Jen,’ I’m like, ‘I want to be protecting your time with your kids because I know you’re going through a lot right now and this is a lot so is this a good one or not?’ It was just about the excitement of being able to work with my very dearest friends, too.”
For her part, Garner remembered “going through a very public, very hard moment in my life; [Witherspoon] was right there, and the way I needed to get through it was dance cardio and I dance cardio’d so hard we broke her foot but she kept going.” Kaling recalled working with Witherspoon on a movie where she floated the idea of having children by herself as a single woman, and Witherspoon told her to do it.
“That’s a scary thing to embark on and sometimes you need that person. I think we see Reese as an entertainer, she’s obviously so funny and so talented, but as a friend, the person who can tell you tough things and you believe her because you’ve been through so much and you’re incredibly open about it,” Kaling said. Garner also spoke about Hollywood actresses uniting for meetings at Witherspoon’s house during the Time’s Up movement: “It was the first time I’d ever sat down with that many actresses in the same room that we weren’t like passing each other at an awards show in big dresses, where we just sat. We’d been siloed off; the one place that doesn’t happen, the place that started the change where that no longer can happen, is Hello Sunshine.”
Witherspoon also discussed her approach to choosing her projects, saying she came to a realization that, “I’m not meant to be doing dark, heavy, intense, horror, gore, darkness movies. People like to see me do light movies, and I was like, OK. It doesn’t put you in the cool kids club a lot but I don’t care, I don’t want to be in the cool kids club. I want to make optimistic stuff that makes girls excited to be women in this world, because it is a wonderful thing to be a woman in this world.” Kaling teased that “B.J. Novak says it’s not a Mindy Kaling show unless there’s a man running shirtless in slow motion. And you know what, I’ve been so used to the male gaze my entire life that yes, I will look at a handsome torso. And I want to provide that for you.”
Later in the program, Witherspoon sat down for a fireside chat with Ross, after the two also became close during the Time’s Up movement. Ross spoke about her decade-long journey to launch her hair product company, Pattern Beauty, and how she finds balance in her life outside of business and her acting career.
“When you are single and don’t have kids, you really have to be conscious about curating what you want around you when you want to be happy, or you’ll just stay in your house or you’ll just spend your whole time working — neither works,” Ross said. “I don’t look for balance because I think it’s impossible, but I look for harmony. So it’s a sense of how the waves move: sometimes they’re big, sometimes they’re small. Sometimes there’s more work, sometimes there’s less.”
Witherspoon admitted she’s been trying hard to find balance outside of work, explaining, “I’m a person who fills my schedule with busyness so that I feel less alone or less nervous or less unsettled, like work has always been my bomb. And I started to realize that isn’t going to work for me; about a year ago I was like, ‘I was a robot and the robot broke.’”
The star said she texted Ross at this time and realized that amid all her work and family duties, “it’s really important to remember that you have to be the glue that holds yourself together,” adding that at the time, “I didn’t feel like I was taking very good care of myself and I wasn’t asking other people for help.”
The Shine Away event was put on in partnership with AT&T and also welcomed Lindsey Vonn, Kerri Walsh Jennings, and authors Curtis Sittenfeld, Jasmine Guillory and Laura Dave.