After breaking records with "Pitch Perfect 2,"Elizabeth Banksadded another laurel and gave an inspiring message to teen girls as she was honored at Step Up's Inspiration Awards Friday at the Beverly Hilton.
Step Up's after-school mentorship programs serve teen girls to help encourage them to finish high school. MC Cristela Alonzo announced that for the sixth consecutive year, 100% of Step Up's active seniors graduated high school and have been accepted to college.
"Pitch Perfect 2's" Ester Dean and Skylar Astin introduced their director, sharing that she started working at the age of 12 because someone discovered that she wore the same pants to school every day. Her motto: You won't get what you don't ask for. "Our movie grossed $69 million opening weekend and set box office records for a first-time director. We hope this inspires women directors and maybe some Step Up girls to follow in Elizabeth Banks' shoes," said Dean.
Banks discussed her visit with Step Up girls at Los Angeles' Gertz-Ressler High School. "They have incredible aspirations, they have ambitions, they have these beautiful dreams," she said.
"But I also learned a bit about the boxes and labels that they feared might threaten those dreams. They were worried that nobody expected them to be anything beyond Latina, female, high school student, mother. They obviously knew they could be much, much more. And they didn't want to be limited or defined by a few labels," Banks said.
Banks said that Hollywood is not much different when it comes to typecasting. "Specifically for the last 15 years, I think I've been in this box that just said, 'Cute blond actress, kind of funny, small boobs.'"
So Banks did something about it. She founded Brownstone Productions with her husband Max Handelman, and produced "Pitch Perfect." When director Jason Moore was unavailable to film the sequel, Banks stepped up. "On top of acting, I started producing and directing because I knew I had more to offer an industry that clearly didn't expect too much from me," she said.
"So like the young women at Gertz, I don't like being defined by those labels or by others, and I don't like limits," Banks continued before getting in a well-deserved pat on the back for her film's success. "As for people's low expectations, those I like. Because those allow an opportunity to surprise people ... like 'Pitch Perfect 2's' $69 million did. Thank you all for those who bought tickets!"
Banks ended with a note of advice to the Step Up girls: "You should fight to expand not just others' ideas of what you should be, but your own. You should surprise yourself."
Step Up's Inspiration Awards gala raised more than $400,000 and also honored Hudson Jeans CEO Peter Kim and graduating senior Maria Soto.
(Pictured: Skylar Astin, Elizabeth Banks and Ester Dean of "Pitch Perfect 2″ at Step Up's Inspiration Awards gala)