Hollywood actress Meryl Streep grabbed headlines around the world this week, having delivered a politically charged speech at the Golden Globe Awards. The speech has caused uproar and has been met with scorn and disdain, with many questioning why someone from Tinseltown in a fancy frock should have anything to say on matters of politics.
Well, why not? Hollywood has always been politicised, it’s only now that we are starting to listen.
Why? Because we are scared. The world as we know it is about to change. In 9 days’ time, Donald Trump will be sworn in as 45th President of the United States, following the most shocking and unprecedented presidential and media campaigns. And as ever, when we stand on the brink of the unknown and stare uncertainly into the distance, we are brimming with a fear of the unknown, and filled with blind hysteria at what we do know – that Donald Trump will be the leader of the Free World. I, for one, am most unnerved.
And it would appear I am not alone. Me and Meryl.
Streep, in a room full of superstars, accepted her Cecil B DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award, and in doing so, she condemned the president elect for mocking a disabled reporter last year. She labelled the incident a ‘performance’ that ‘sank its hooks in my heart, not because it was good, it was – there’s nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth.
‘Disrespect invites disrespect,’ said Streep, ‘violence incites violence.’
She did not mention Trump by name, instead referring to ‘the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country’. Streep’s speech was powerful. It was intelligent and it was elegant. But for some – majoritively the intellectual snobs amongst us – it did not cut the mustard. Absurd suggestions were made that speeches such as Streep’s were the reason for Trump’s election: Donald the Unsquashable can engage hoi poloi in a way that the glitterarti cannot. The proleteriat needed a Donald, not a movie star with big ideas.
Streep’s speech in itself was excellent. But the fact that she made it is unremarkable. The great and the good of Hollywood have long been using award ceremonies to exercise their politics. Last year Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar, and to mark the event he delivered an address on climate change. ‘Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species… Let us not take this planet for granted,’ DiCaprio declared.
In 2003, filmmaker Michael Moore took home the Oscar for Best Documentary, but not before he had slammed then-president George W. Bush for his policies regarding the Iraq war. ‘We are against this war, Mr Bush. Shame on you, Mr Bush, shame on you.’ And in 1973, Marlon Brando refused to attend the Oscar ceremony to collect his award, to protest against the poor treatment of Native Americans.
Pontificating from the Oscar stage is no new stunt. But why shouldn’t actors use the platforms they have been given to stand up for what they believe in? Are they hurting anyone? No. Are they reaching a wider audience than they otherwise would? Yes.
And Streep is right. ‘When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.’ It doesn’t really matter who’s making the point: a Hollywood superstar, as in this case, or a famed author, a politician, a religious leader, or you or me. Sometimes a good point simply needs to be made. And we should listen to the sentiment rather than worrying about where it came from. If you’ve got a platform, use it. If you have a voice, speak. Stand up for what you believe in.
Constance Watson is a writer and commentator. She tweets @.