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SAG Awards: Trump’s Immigration Ban Top of Mind for Many Winners

Variety logo Variety 1/30/2017 Kristopher Tapley
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The 23rd annual Screen Actors Guild Awards kicked off on a political note with Ashton Kutcher opening the show by speaking out for “everyone in airports that belong in my America,” and it didn’t let up throughout.

In addition to “Veep” winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who read the Writers Guild’s statement against Donald Trump’s immigration ban and spoke up as the daughter of an immigrant horrified by what she called the “un-American” ban. Taylor Schilling spoke directly to the point in accepting an award on behalf of the cast of Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black.”

“We stand up here representing a diverse group of people,” Schilling said, “representing generations of families who have sought a better life here from places like Nigeria, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Ireland — and we know that it’s going to be up to us and all of you to keep telling stories that show what unites us is stronger than the forces that seek to divide us.”

Meanwhile, Mahershala Ali — supporting actor winner for “Moonlight” — spoke heartfelt words about empathy and understanding in line with the themes of the film.

“What I’ve learned from working on ‘Moonlight’ is you see what happens when you persecute people: they fold into themselves,” Ali said. “What I was so grateful about in having the opportunity to play Juan was playing a gentleman who saw a young man folding into himself as a result of the persecution of his community and taking that opportunity to uplift him and tell him that he mattered and tell him that it was OK and accept him, and I hope that we do a better job of that.”

Ali converted to Islam 17 years ago, but he didn’t speak directly to Trump’s new policy. Instead, he kept things personal, putting a face on the divisions the legislation continues to stoke.

“When we get caught up in the minutiae and the details that make us all different, I think there’s two ways of seeing that,” he said. “There’s an opportunity to see the texture of that person, the characteristics that make them unique. And there’s the opportunity to go to war about it and to say that that person is different from me. ‘I don’t like you, so let’s battle.’ My mother is an ordained minister. I’m a Muslim. She didn’t do backflips when I called to tell her that I converted. But I tell you now, we put things to the side and I’m able to see her, she’s able to see me, we love each other, the love has grown, and that stuff is minutiae. It’s not that important.”

“The People v. O.J. Simpson” star Sarah Paulson, in collecting yet another award for the FX miniseries this season, called on viewers to donate to the American Civil Liberties Union. The organization scored three victories Saturday and early Sunday morning with federal judges staying the ban in New York, Virginia and Massachusetts. It has reportedly collected over $24 million in donations since Saturday morning.

“It’s a vital organization that protects the rights of everyone in this country,” Paulson said.

Backstage, Paulson clarified her decision to speak out on the subject. “I am not an immigrant. I was born here, so in terms of how I can speak about it, from a personal standpoint from my youth or something wasn’t available to me. I just wanted to have an opportunity to mention the inclusivity that I think is required right now and I think the ACLU is representative of that across the board. And they do in general really rely on funds from people like you and me.”

And some even injected humor with their sentiments. Comedy lead actor winner William H. Macy, for instance, quipped that he’d “like to thank president Trump for making Frank Gallagher seem so normal,” referencing his character from Showtime’s “Shameless.”

And “All the Way” star Bryan Cranston, who won the prize for actor in a miniseries or TV movie, said he is often asked what Lyndon Johnson would think about Trump.

“I honestly feel that 36 would put his arm around 45 and earnestly wish him success,” Cranston said. “And he would also whisper something in his ear that he often said, as a form of encouragement, and as a cautionary tale: ‘Just don’t piss in the soup that all of us got to eat.'”

Backstage, Cranston went on: “There’s a lot of strife in our world and in our country. I think it’s important to embrace the good things that we have as well. The collective of creative people coming together and talking about the issues, as you’ve seen tonight, is alive. And this is what artists do best. They take the anguish, anxiety or fear and put it back into work and hopefully it creates a groundswell of understanding and acceptance and compassion.”

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