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.

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