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Should Celebrities Get Political on Awards Shows?

Variety logo Variety 1/3/2019 Tim Gray
Meryl Streep wearing a suit and tie © streep: Paul Drinkwater/NBC; deniro: Michael Zorn/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Since awards ceremonies will begin imminently, nominees and presenters need to ask themselves: Should I make political remarks?

For the past few years, political speeches have grabbed the most headlines at the Emmys, Golden Globes and SAG Awards (Oscars have been comparatively muted).

Hollywood awards have a worldwide audience; even if it’s not televised, remarks will be repeated on Twitter, Instagram and the mainstream media. This year, people are angrier than ever — about climate change, sexual predators and bullies in the industry, liars in D.C., world hunger and other horrors.

You want to help? There are three solutions.

Option 1:

Yes, get political.

It’s a free country (so far) and you can say what you want, onstage or on the red carpet. But ask yourself: Who are you hoping to influence? And is this the best way of reaching them?

To many in the public, an awards speech (no matter how heartfelt) will incite a sigh of “Oh, here we go again” and then they zone out. As for your motives, you might be trying to enlighten the undecided masses, but it’s also possible you are simply trying to impress family and friends by showing them you’re a champion of the downtrodden.

Some people can and should do it.

Meryl Streep’s 2017 Golden Globes speech was rousing and memorable. But unfortunately, we’re not all Meryl Streep.

Option 2:

No, don’t get political.

In 1972, Jane Fonda was highly controversial thanks to her activism. When she won her well-deserved Oscar for “Klute,” she said, “There’s a great deal to say, but I’m not going to say it tonight.” So she simply thanked everyone.

Also, a reminder: We live in an era of TMZ and Twitter. If your political speech is full of nuance and depth, the odds are good that only one sentence will be repeated. People don’t read news stories, they read headlines.

Another reason to avoid politics: Courtesy to others. At the Tony Awards in June, Andrew Garfield beautifully addressed LGBT rights and inclusion, concluding, “We are all sacred and we all belong.” Others made eloquent statements about arts funding and the magic of theatergoing. But the only sentence in the entire evening that was widely repeated on the internet and mainstream media was Robert De Niro’s “F--- Trump!” Most of the news sources didn’t even supply context.

The lack of civility today bothers many people. The White House has mocked the disabled, prisoners of war, Gold Star families, Mexicans, Muslims, immigrants, you name it. Hollywood makes a mistake when they engage in finger-pointing with the president. Admit it: He knows how to use Twitter. Your speech may be intended to offer solutions, but maybe you’re just adding to the noise.

Option No. 3:

Think Long-Range

Instead of addressing hot-button topics, talk about long-range solutions. For example, reminding people about voter registration. (Yes, it’s still an issue; about half of eligible U.S. voters cast ballots in November.) Alternately, bring more attention to public schools. Many countries, including the U.S., are in urgent need of help with public schools, with the current system contributing to many problems — crime, unemployment, drugs, etc. Lift up the next generation, give them opportunities.

In a digital age, we all want results ASAP. With voting and education, you may not see results for another generation or two. But you will see results. And whichever option you choose, follow it up with activism — which means volunteer work, not just tweeting your opinions.

 

2019 Golden Globe Nominees (via Photo Services)

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