Awards show acceptance speeches getting fiery in Trump era
Awards show acceptance speeches are often filled with passion, but lately they’ve been particularly fiery.
As political unrest has intensified in the U.S., several stars have used the stage to not only give thanks but also voice their opinions — a trend that seems likely to carry through to the Grammys and Oscars later this month.
“It seems like so many people feel the need to speak out in a way that hasn’t happened for a long time and that’s just really emboldening,’’ says Canadian actor Shawn Doyle, star of the upcoming CBC series “Bellevue,’’ who’s been nominated for several awards throughout his career.
“Any public forum where you have a voice or you feel like you have something important to say, and you think people are going to listen to you and it’s a positive message, I say go for it,’’ adds Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan, winner of 10 Junos, three Grammys and this year’s inductee into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
Meryl Streep ignited the recent trend at the Golden Globes in January, when she used her acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille Award to call out U.S. President Donald Trump.
“Meryl Streep’s speech at the Golden Globes was hugely significant, to my mind,’’ says film journalist and director Brian D. Johnson, adding it was “inspiring, eloquent’’ and brought “tears to your eyes.’’
“The notion of film as an act of empathy is something that she really spelled out in extraordinary terms, only to have Donald Trump (call her) ‘overrated.’’’
Politics also infiltrated the Screen Actors Guild Awards last Sunday, as several stars took aim onstage at Trump’s controversial immigration order.
“I think people are pissed off, angry and upset,’’ says McLachlan. “There’s always going to be naysayers, saying, ‘Oh God, there’s another celebrity windbag spouting off about things they don’t know anything about.’ Yeah, there might be that too.
“But I think it’s important to speak out about things that you believe in and things you feel strongly about. There’s a lot of noise out there, a lot of negative, horrible things being talked about too, so if the message is positive, I’m all for it.’’
Of course, there’s a long history of stars using such a highprofile forum to get political.
In 1973, for instance, Marlon Brando boycotted the Oscars to protest Hollywood’s treatment of Native Americans. When he won best actor for “The Godfather,’’ Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather took to the stage on Brando’s behalf to say the actor was refusing the statuette.
In 2003, after winning the best documentary feature Oscar for “Bowling for Columbine,’’ Michael Moore startled the audience — drawing a mix of boos and scattered applause — when he used his speech to speak out against the just-launched war in Iraq and the “fictitious election results that elects a fictitious president.’’
And last year, director Spike Lee and actors Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith boycotted the show as part of the #oscarssowhite movement to protest two straight years of allwhite acting nominees.
But sometimes a message doesn’t come out right in the adrenaline rush of a win.
Actor Tom Hiddleston, for instance, was criticized recently when he accepted a Golden Globe for “The Night Manager’’ and said he was proud the series could provide “relief and entertainment’’ for humanitarian aid workers in South Sudan. He was referring to a group of doctors and nurses there who told him that they binge-watched the show.
He later apologized on Facebook, saying his speech was “inelegantly expressed’’ and that he was nervous and his words “came out wrong.’’
“You are so filled with all these mixed emotions ... and one of them I think is guilt and that can lead to some verbal abnormalities that normally wouldn’t happen,’’ says Toronto filmmaker Matt Johnson, whose fake moon-landing documentary “Operation Avalanche’’ is up for six Canadian Screen Awards.
“You’ve changed people’s lives in an instant when they win some of these awards; I think expecting anybody to have any type of dexterity with their words is not fair.’’
The mood of the room is also a factor, says Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan, who was up for two Oscars in 1998 for “The Sweet Hereafter.’’
“People don’t understand that,’’ he says. “When you are at a podium, if there’s a lot of surprise that’s directed at you and shock, you’re going to absorb that, you’re going to feel that, that will be part of your response. You have to calibrate that and it’s quite monumental.’’
Which is why some stars say they have a loose acceptance speech written down or drafted in their mind in the event they win, even if it’s just a list of names they don’t want to forget to mention.
“In French, I don’t have to; in English, I do, because if I’m nervous, my vocabulary can go down into the drain very quickly, so I need to have some references,’’ says Quebec director Denis Villeneuve, whose alien-landing drama “Arrival’’ is up for eight Oscars.
“If you are in front of cameras at big events, you need some guidance in your pocket in case you become too nervous. So I like to be prepared and then improvise, but I like to be prepared in case the adrenaline kicks in too hard.’’
Meryl Streep accepts the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif. in this Jan. 8 image released by NBC. Awards show acceptance speeches are often filled with passion, but lately they’ve been particularly fiery.