What happens when an outspoken president with a rock-bottom approval rating and a vendetta against the media takes office right in the middle of Hollywood’s awards season? Political speeches from anyone lucky enough to take the podium. Meryl Streep set the trend this year with her scathing takedown of Donald Trump at the Golden Globe awards — liberals loved it, and conservatives flipped out. And, given the political climate right now and the fact that celebrities love to use their platforms to propagate their politics, the Oscars, and the days following, are about to be lit. It’s not hard to anticipate the backlash from folks like Tomi Lahren who will likely take to social media after the awards and bitch about how Hollywood liberal elites don’t understand “real Americans.” Twitter trolls will be quick to react, and act like the triggered snowflakes that they hilariously call us. The day after the Globes, for example, Diamond and Silk, two internet personalities-turned-Trump surrogates, released a video rant: “To all of you actresses and actors, you are only here for our pure entertainment,” Diamond yells into the camera. “On your résumé it doesn’t say politician. You are an actress. It means you are a fake. You are somebody we can use on a daily basis to get our [entertainment] fix and then we kick you to the curb.” The summation of their video is simple: We don’t care about celebrities’ political opinions. Famous people exist only to entertain us. They should keep their mouths shut. Oh, the hypocrisy! Let’s get one thing straight: Conservatives don’t care that celebrities voice their opinions, unless they disagree with the opinions the celebrities are voicing.
Take the Grammys, for instance: Breitbart published two separate stories about two separate politically charged clothing choices, from Katy Perry and Joy Villa. Perry wore a subtle armband that read “Persist” during her performance, while Villa wore that now-infamous pro-Trump dress on the red carpet. The articles vilified Perry and applauded Villa, but the comments were where things got ugly. Under the Perry story, readers threw around the words “hypocrite” and “corrupt” and “hate-filled” over and over. Villa, on the other hand, was called “brave” and “beautiful” and a “class-act.” Similarly, Trump supporters have no problem applauding Stephen Baldwin for his support of the Donald. Yet they flip out every time his brother Alec impersonates the president on Saturday Night Live. And who can forget the 2012 Republican National Convention, when Republicans thought it was a cool idea to let Clint Eastwood talk to a chair for 11 minutes?
Let’s get one thing straight: Conservatives don’t care that celebrities voice their opinions, unless they disagree with the opinions the celebrities are voicing.
This is why a lot of liberals, like yours truly, see the outrage that claims to be pointed at “actors” and “Hollywood elites” to be pretty ridiculous. Especially given the fact that it’s Republicans who have put two celebrities in the highest office in all the land: first, Ronald Reagan, who was an outspoken actor and president of the Screen Actors Guild before becoming president of, you know, the country; and now 28 years later, the mouthiest, most supremely unqualified celebrity-cum-candidate of all time — Donald Trump. At least in Reagan's case he paid his dues with some public service experience as the Governor of California in between. But for Trump, his entire appeal was based on his fame. At this point, how can anyone argue that there is anything wrong with liberal celebrities using their platform to espouse values important to them at the Oscars, the biggest awards show of the year? They can’t. And so, the Oscars will play out like another battle in the war between conservatives and liberals, and we all just better buckle up and listen. People talking to other people is important, especially with an administration like this — one in which the president flat-out lies to the country while attempting to delegitimize the press. Why wouldn’t actors and actresses want to use their platform to try to do some good? We’ve already seen how effective people can be when they’re organized around a collective goal or belief — just take a look at last month’s Women’s March or the protests at airports across the country after Trump’s disastrous Muslim Ban. And yet, if celebrities are serious about getting their message across, they will need to be mindful of the elitism that, if we’re going to be honest, often overshadows it. Midway through Streep’s Golden Globes speech, for example, our beloved Meryl fell into this trap: “If we kick [all of the foreigners in Hollywood] out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.” People on both sides of the aisle decried the line, which they say showed off Streep’s smugness. Meghan McCain tweeted that rhetoric like Streep’s “is why Trump won.” The New York Times ran a column claiming the line did more harm than good. And in The Washington Post, Sonny Bunch wrote that “Meryl Streep could make an effort to appreciate that which appeals to folks on the other side of the aisle — or another part of the country.” This isn’t the only example of celebrities coming off as smug, hypocritical and lacking self-awareness: Remember George Clooney’s Oscars speech where he talked about how much more progressive Hollywood is than the rest of the country, forgetting how far behind the industry is in its treatment of people of color? Or how Barbra Streisand preached energy efficiency and then was caught, gasp, running her air conditioner when she wasn’t at home? This is the kind of rhetoric that can divide.
You can’t say that entertainers should stick to entertaining, and then elect a reality TV star as president.
Let’s consider a few moments when political speeches have been most effective: There are situations in which it makes plenty of sense for an actor to get political during an acceptance speech — when it's all but required that they do. When Dustin Lance Black and Sean Penn won Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor, respectively, for Milk at the 2009 Academy Awards, they both brought LGBT rights into their acceptance speeches. That was expected: The movie was about Harvey Milk, essentially the face of the gay-rights movement in this country, and Proposition 8 — California’s anti-same-sex-marriage initiative — had just been voted into approval. Shortly after Trump’s Muslim ban, Mahershala Ali gave a tearful speech to accept his SAG Award for Best Actor. In it, he discussed his conversion to Islam and how his mother, an ordained minister, accepts him anyway. That speech, although subtly political, was met with high praise. So the framework of the film matters, but so does the current-day political climate. That’s why it’s important for celebrities to be smart with their political speeches and not take cheap shots. Given our political climate right now, we can pretty much count on things getting heated at the Oscars. Ben Mankiewicz, a host for Turner Classic Movies, says that actors and actresses tend to use the platform of the Oscars to push their agendas for a very obvious reason: “The Oscars simply get more eyes,” he says. “If you take every single other award show and add together all of the buzz and lasting effect they have on the Hollywood colony, that number only equals one-fifth of the influence the Oscars have. Nobody is talking about who won Best Motion Picture at the Globes in 1997.” While we’re expecting a lot of pissed off conservatives come Monday, they might do well to check their hypocrisy. You can’t say that entertainers should stick to entertaining, and then elect an orange reality television star as president. Trump was, without question, one of the most outspoken celebrities in the country before he was elected. Because of that, conservatives don’t exactly have a leg to stand on when they tell celebrities to shut up. Without realizing it, they dealt the other side our trump card.