Opinion: Keep politics out of awards shows

In the wake of a politically charged SAG awards and Meryl Streep’s Trumbashing speech at the Golden Globes, Cormac Murphy awaits more of the same self-adulating politics at the Oscars.

Political statements at award shows are nothing new but Donald Trump’s electoral triumph has sent the dregs of Hollywood into overdrive. Love him or loathe him, the 23rd Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards were riddled with self-righteous, sanctimonious celebrities who instead of collecting their awards, making their acceptance speech and quietly whisking themselves away afterwards, decided to make loud overt political statements in relation to the new US president.

Trump is a controversial character, attracting as much scorn as he does support but he’s the American president for the next four years – a position he attained by exploiting the excessive media platform given to him. There’s nothing wrong with celebrities having opinions, especially on something as momentous as the American presidency but there is a time and place for everything and award shows for honouring excellence in acting are definitely not appropriate for political commentary.   

The SAG Awards have been a major award ceremony in Hollywood since 1995 and are widely viewed as a forerunner to the Academy Awards which will be held on February 26th 2017. If this years SAG Awards are indicative of anything, it’s that the Oscars will be one big circus show of celebrities trying to outdo one another in their attacks against Trump. Ashton Kutcher who opened this year’s show wasted no time in blasting Trump’s controversial travel ban to seven Muslim majority nations. He stated: ‘We welcome everyone in airports that belong in my America.’ Only afterwards did he welcome the audience. His opening line epitomised the entire show – the actual awards were merely a secondary sideshow to the frenzy of nauseating and unnecessary political rants from actors with more money than brains.



Bryan Cranston who is perhaps most well known for portraying Walter White on the critically acclaimed series Breaking Bad was arguably Trump’s most prominent critic of the night. Winning his most recent award for his portrayal of president Lyndon B.Johnson in All the Way, Cranston offered the new president a few words of advice: “I’m often asked how would Lyndon B. Johnson think about Donald Trump, and I honestly feel that 36 would put his arm around 45 and earnestly wish him success, before adding ‘just don’t piss in the soup that all of us got to eat’.” Given the smugness and manner in which Cranston spoke about the issue, one could be forgiven for thinking Cranston was a historian or even President Lyndon B. Johnson himself, but alas he’s not, he’s just another actor playing a role.

Many others like Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Denzel Washington and Sarah Paulson eagerly queued up to pummel the 45th president and his policies. Likewise, Meryl Streep who played British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the Iron Lady bashed Trump in her Golden Globes acceptance speech weeks earlier. While she made no reference to the role in which she earned her 17th Oscar nomination, you would think the veteran actress was a seasoned politician by the way she behaved.

Pretending you’re a president in a movie does not make you president or an an expert. Celebrities need to understand that their name recognition does not equate authority on an issue. Their opinion is as relevant as the average person’s opinion on the street, maybe even less as they are marooned away from everyday life with their opulent lifestyles and fancy mansions.



Sadly, Hollywood has a long and protracted history of intertwining politics and entertainment. Marlon Brando famously sent the Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather to refuse his academy award in 1973 for The Godfather. Her speech was permitted but timed and its reception was met with as much revulsion as it was enthusiasm when several members of the audience booed her off the stage. While his support for Native American rights was praiseworthy, was it appropriate for the occasion? Thirty years later at the 2003 Academy Awards, Michael Moore used his Best Documentary win to condemn the impending US invasion of Iraq. Nowadays political speeches are more uniformly welcomed by an echo chamber of egotistical celebrities. The only exception being of course Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson’s sour faced reception to Streep’s Golden Globes speech.  



Ironically, if actors really wanted to stump Trump then they would stay silent. Nestled in Los Angeles’s richest suburbs, most live in a bubble displaced far from reality. No one is under any illusion as to what they are and what they represent – they are the elite and they work more against their own cause by slamming Trump who consistently positioned himself as an anti-establishment candidate throughout his presidential campaign. No matter how well intentioned their statements are, it simply comes across as very rich people telling the masses what to do. Trump metabolises any attention his opposition provides him with. They can vent the vacuous contents of their brains to the world, it won’t make one iota of difference. They may in fact do more to diminish than help their cause. People just want to see and hear what actors do best – read lines off a page and pretend to be other people for fame and fortune.

Madonna’s hot headed speech at the Women’s March on Washington may have drawn its critics but at least it was done at the right venue. Luckily for all the actors planning to attend the upcoming BAFTAs and Oscars, they have the time and money to invest in professionals to prepare their speeches for them so they may not sound quite so vulgar and stupid as Madonna’s ‘blow up the White House’ remark, yet it still has organisers concerned.

Trump’s presidency will without a doubt grab attention over the coming four years as it is an issue of immense importance and interest. It is sad though that we find it virtually impossible to remove ourselves from the constant flood of news relating to Trump. It is an inescapable reality we are bombarded with daily. Entertainment is about amusement and diversion, so it is the last place we should be hearing of such negativity and seriousness. People who tune into the Oscars or the BAFTAs are only interested in hearing who wins, not who whines.  

Celebrities have every right to voice whatever opinion it is they have regarding Trump, but there is a time and a place. If they have such a vested interest in politics they should run for public office, not stand and sulk on stage about what a despicable president Trump is. Moreover, celebrities embody the elite Trump supporters revile and serve to only reinforce stereotypes. Trump may indeed be a celebrity himself but he has been successfully repackaged.  Instead of a deluge of celebrities decrying Trump at every opportunity and patting themselves on the back afterward, they should gracefully accept their awards and go home. Whatever anyone thinks of Trump, entertainment should be just that – entertaining. It should be kept free from self-adulation and politics.



Featured Image by Ivan Bandura (Oscars for sale) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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