People tune in to award ceremonies such as the #GoldenGlobes for many reasons, whether they're sitting down to judge every single outfit making its way onto the red carpet or actually hoping for someone to win. What's certain is that all of these motivations combined result in a broad audience every year — and stars know they're being watched.
Why is it such a shock, then, when a #celebrity uses such an event to share a message that's close to their heart? No matter what cause these kinds of speeches address, there seems to be an immediate backlash whenever they dare to deviate from purely recreational topics, as if all the movie people were ever allowed to do was discussing movies.
#MerylStreep's acceptance speech last night was no exception. After she denounced the culture of hate and disrespect she felt was fueled by president-elect Trump — without even naming him — his supporters were quick to accuse her, if not of being wrong, of cluelessness and bad timing. From their perspective, celebrities simply shouldn't be allowed to discuss politics.
Leaving aside the easy comeback that Mr. Trump himself was a TV celebrity before turning to politics, there's more than one reason to support celebrities for speaking out about political issues — starting with the simple fact that bigger events simply draw bigger audiences, providing opportunities for impactful interventions.
Celebrities Aren't Just Entertainers Anymore
Let's be clear, celebrities aren't politicians and should in no way be considered the experts of choice on political matters. We don't need to know their opinions at all times, and we certainly shouldn't automatically turn to them when it comes to politics. My issue lies with the claim that an actress like Streep should only ever do acting in her life, because this segmentation of roles has become obsolete.
Not only should we remember that actors are people, with feelings and opinions, rather than robots created for our personal entertainment, it's important to acknowledge that the role of entertainers has changed. We don't talk so much of movie stars anymore as we do of influencers, trend-setters, kweens and the like. With social media, our interest for what our favorite celebrities think and do all day has been growing tirelessly, and it doesn't stop at their movie credits and fashion choices.
So if during the last presidential election, American stars have come out in droves to voice their support for their candidate of choice, is it because they grew a political bone overnight and suddenly felt a desire to manipulate their fans out of nowhere? Or is it because we've all been contributing to a culture where entertainers have gained more and more influence outside Hollywood, often proportional to their professional success? We don't have to give them credit for political skills, but we have to be honest about the fact that we do care about how our favorite actors and actresses view the world.
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And Politicians Aren't Just Politicians
To turn the debate on its head, we could also accuse politics of infiltrating entertainment. Lately it seems like it's not the Hollywood people who are trying to force their presence onto the political scene, but rather the opposite. While he's hardly the only one to act that way, Trump is clearly the best example of celebrity politics.
His response to Streep's speech alone, a short rant of tweets, is tailor-made for gossip columns and endless reshares — a stark contrast to the kind of cold press release a more old-fashioned president would probably have favored in this situation. Who can blame entertainers, then, for not always keeping both feet within the realm of entertainment?
It's Sad And Vain To Try To Dissociate Art And Politics
Most importantly, however, the phobia of finding political statements in entertainment that has been growing stronger and stronger lately seems to be coming from people who never really realized what movies were telling them. Movies have always been making political statements, admittedly in more or less subtle ways. It's just not a brand new mission on the liberal crybaby agenda.
Before it eventually won over both the critics and the box office, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story suffered some backlash from Star Wars fans who were outraged that the movie could be "political," when the Star Wars saga has been about two opposing ideologies all along. While the call for a boycott might have been justified if Rogue One had included a CGI cameo of Trump, or made a joke about the American elections, it seems absurd to accuse a movie about an Empire and a Rebellion of being political.
But even when it comes to plots that don't necessarily include states and empires and wars, being political is one of the great powers of cinema. A good movie reflects the world and makes you think about it. The casting and the costume choices reflect aspects of society. The story itself can make a political statement, and yet, we're never forced to take it; it's our power as viewers to choose whether to adhere to it.
If you look at the Golden Globes selection this year, there's more than one excellent movie with a political statement somewhere in it. Moonlight shows how tough it can be to embrace one's sexuality, The Crown dives into the complex world of British royalty, Zootopia carries an important message about diversity; the list goes on, but what matters is that they're powerful stories that can get their audience to think — and that's why we need them. In the words of the great Nina Simone:
"How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?"
What did you think of Meryl Streep's Golden Globes speech? Do you think celebrities should voice their political opinions?