Meryl Streep gave a powerful, politically charged speech at the Golden Globes and, while it was obvious whom she was speaking about, never mentioned Donald Trump by name.
In response, President-Elect Donald Trump made a series of tweets dismissing Meryl Streep as overrated.
And thus the Hollywood vs. politics debate rages on, now perhaps in a discourse more churlish and on a platform more undignified than ever.
Spurned by a petulant outburst by the incoming commander-in-chief, an obtuse tweet from John McCain’s daughter, teed-up yacking by Kellyanne Conway on Fox News, and a prevailing frustration over actors constantly espousing their politics in public arenas—a frustration that deserves to be validated—there is backlash over Meryl Streep’s acceptance speech at the Golden Globe Awards Sunday night.
If we’re going to shine a spotlight on things that are tired, it is not the practice of celebrities talking about politics. It is the practice of complaining about that.
Here’s a brief recap of the debate.
Meryl Streep was given a lifetime achievement award Sunday night. Her speech commanded the room, with the Oscar winner eschewing the opportunity to express polite gratitude and toss off some witty quips to instead make a call to arms from her peers in Hollywood.
She brought up the incident in which Trump appeared to mock a disabled reporter—something he denied doing again in an interview with The New York Times and in his tweet tirade, but which there is video evidence of—and used the anecdote as the catalyst for a plea for greater empathy, from the people in the highest position in the world to those sitting in the ballroom to us watching at home.
Trump scoffed at the speech as pandering from a “Hillary flunky who lost big.” He called Meryl Streep, who was at the Globes to accept the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award for a career that has included 3 Oscars, 9 Golden Globes, and the branding as the Greatest Actress of All-Time, “overrated.”
(Perhaps, just perhaps, a person who purports to be in the business of uniting our nation could do better in that pursuit than disparaging Meryl Streep’s acting chops.)
Trump’s message—that he was attacked unfairly—was amplified by his supporters, who continue to insist that politics should be kept out of the mouths of celebrities.
Meghan McCain, daughter of Senator John McCain and frequent TV commentator, tweeted earlier in the night that, “This Meryl Streep speech is why Trump won. And if people in Hollywood don’t start recognizing why and how – you will help him get re-elected.”
Presumably she was referencing a sense of exhaustion over people in privileged positions presuming that their opinions merit public forums, and that Hollywood’s vocal support of Hillary Clinton irritated voters enough to flee in the other direction—that the optics of Clinton’s high-powered, rich and famous friends meant she was out of touch with the needs of everyday people.
It’s always been a confusing notion, particularly in comparison to mogul and reality star Donald Trump.
There’s also the idea that they’re “just celebrities,” that they don’t have any expertise on these issues and have no right to speak authoritatively on them. To that, as journalist Glenn Greenwald aptly inquired in a tweet that’s being circulated Monday morning, “Why are actors less qualified to comment on political issues than, say, cable TV or talk radio hosts? Never understood this rationale.”
Sure, like anyone who has passionate feelings on an issue and a microphone to share them from, people in Hollywood—liberals or otherwise—hope their message is heard by people with opposing views, that they digest it and consider it.
But the idea that Meryl Streep was unaware that she was speaking to a ballroom of friendly ears misunderstands what I gathered to be her intention.
She was speaking to a room full of celebrities whose politics she knows, about a frustration she knew they felt. Assumptions from tweets like McCain’s insinuating that Hollywood liberals don’t realize they’re in a bubble, or that Trump voters don’t like them, are ridiculous.
Streep made a plea to stand up against bullying, for dignity in power, and advocated for the arts. The catalyst for her plea was the election of Donald Trump. Of course it was. Streep, in addition to much of the Globes attendees, made no secret of her support of Hillary Clinton and her lack of respect for Trump and what he stands for.
Why would anyone be surprised that a Hollywood liberal made such a plea at an event celebrating Hollywood liberals?
“She didn’t change anyone’s minds” is the critique most commonly charged against her speech Monday morning. She wasn’t trying to change minds, or campaign for anything. She was calling to action people whose politics she already knew aligned with her own, whom she hoped she could motivate to take a stand for something meaningful.
Maybe that’s what made Sunday’s awards telecast seem so tonally off.
These events are typically characterized by cheerleading: for Obama, for their shared politics, for Hillary or against Trump, and, most often, for themselves. That kind of positive, unanimous energy is what made room for silly distractions and goofy bits like the ones host Jimmy Fallon tried to stage. But when the room no longer wanted to cheer—politically or otherwise—and instead set a more somber tone, the producers didn’t know how to reconcile that.
But to make the case that politics shouldn’t have been a part of the show entirely? C’mon.
People who continually say Hollywood and awards shouldn’t be platforms for politics and social justice need a new script. Have you seen an award show in the last 40-some years? It’s nothing new, and it’s not going to change.
Stretch back to Marlon Brandon inviting Sacheen Littlefeather on stage in 1973 all the way up to Boyhood’s Patricia Arquette urging for gender pay equality in 2014, with stops at every Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, Sally Field, Michael Moore, Leonardo DiCaprio, and George Clooney in between.
If “know your audience” is a critique lobbied against Streep, “know your show” is applicable to those still upset about the confluence of Hollywood and politics.
Hollywood and politics, by the way: a copulation that inseminated Donald Trump and birthed his public career, and a topic he seemingly can’t stop tweeting about.
This is an industry that Trump has desperately wanted to be included in and welcomed by. There are the dozens and dozens of TV show and movie cameos he made, award shows he attended, and photos he took at parties with celebrities. He desperately wanted to win an Emmy and still complains that he didn't. All he has to show for his showbiz yearning is a Razzie award and an inauguration at which no one will perform.
It’s no wonder he’s taken to calling Meryl Streep overrated. And it’s no wonder Meryl Streep feels compelled to speak out.