In this election year, celebrities take their gloves off
NEW YORK >> It’s a bit of footage so intense that it’s almost hard to watch. A respected artist stares into a camera and out comes a torrent of anger and frustration at his enemy.
He calls the other man “a pig,” “an idiot” and “a mutt, who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” He ends the minute-long diatribe with a promise of violence: “I’d like to punch him in the face.”
It’s shocking stuff, all the more for the fact that the man speaking is Robert De Niro and his target is Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s presidential candidate.
Politics is a brutal game in any year, but the 2016 election has provoked a visceral, intense response from many in the arts community, prompting songs, videos and uncommon ferocity against Trump, arguably once one of their own.
The anger against the former “The Apprentice” host ranges from America Ferrera’s blistering open letter calling Trump “living in an outdated fantasy of a bigoted America,” to Carly Simon repurposing her song “You’re So Vain” into an anti-Trump anthem, to singer-rapper Will.i.am’s damning video “GRAB’m by the .... ”
The Black Eyed Peas frontman — who gave the world the uplifting “Yes We Can” for then-Sen. Barack Obama 2008 — was so disgusted by Trump’s recorded comments about groping women that he felt he had to act. He donned a wig and started singing.
“He doesn’t care about anything but himself. He doesn’t care about people,” the singer said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “Listen, I’m in a rap group. I’ve heard that from people. I’ve never heard it that vulgar, even from rappers.”
The prospect of a potential President Trump prompted filmmaker Michael Moore to create the iTunes film “Michael Moore in TrumpLand “and suspects there may be some guilt on the part of Hollywood for helping shape his rise.
“Perhaps part of it is he’s one of ours and he got loose. So we take it as a personal responsibility to bring him back to the zoo,” Moore said. “He is a creation of us — of our industry — otherwise he just would have been known as a big, New York blowhard to New Yorkers.”
This year, celebrities have been galvanized by Trump’s stands on immigration, policing and treatment of women, among many other issues. In addition to supporting Clinton, many stars are also using social media to bash Trump.
“You see people who have an ability to create messages that might resonate stepping up,” said Jon Vein, a former TV and film producer and current Market-Share executive who is raising money for Clinton. “The volume and quality and the quantity of what you’re seeing is because this year is different. There’s a lot at stake.”
Some in the arts community have been more gentle, like the cast of “Will & Grace” which reunited for a 10-minute video to mock Trump, or actor James Franco spoofing Dos Equis ads with a video endorsement of Clinton as “The Most Interesting Woman in the World.” The cast of “Empire,” along with creator Lee Daniels, firmly endorsed Clinton.
But others have hardly disguised their white-hot anger and disgust at the GOP leader. Comedian Amy Schumer called him an “orange, sexual-assaulting, fake college-starting monster,” and her diatribe against Trump at one of her shows caused some to walk out.
Many TV talk show hosts — specifically Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee and Seth Myers — roast Trump nightly, in brutal terms.
Compare that with the 2012 race, when the biggest celebrity stir was created when Clint Eastwood bashed an empty chair he named “Barack Obama” at the Republican National Convention.
This year, some 130 celebrities — including Shonda Rhimes, Jane Fonda and Neil Patrick Harris — signed a MoveOn.org petition to beat Trump “and the hateful ideology he represents.” Another petition by Stop Hate Dump Trump calls him “a grave threat to democracy” and is backed by dozens of celebs like Harry Belafonte and Connie Britton.
Trump has a few celebrities fighting in his corner, including Jon Voight and “Charles in Charge” actor Scott Baio, who spoke at the Republican National Convention. After Trump’s secret recordings emerged, Baio defended the nominee, saying “If you’re offended by it, grow up.” Eastwood, when asked who he was supporting, said: “That’s a tough one, isn’t it? I’d have to go for Trump.”
But opponents have most of the passion. Bands like Death Cab For Cutie, Jim James, Franz Ferdinand and R.E.M. have contributed songs for a “Trump-Free America” campaign.
Simon backed the use of “You’re So Vain” in an anti-Trump video, with the singer changing the lyric “your scarf, it was apricot” to “your face, it was apricot.” That was backed by the Patriotic Artists & Creatives PAC, which has put out both pro-Clinton and anti-Trump viral videos.
Kathryn Cramer Brownell, an assistant professor of history at Purdue University and author of “Showbiz Politics: Hollywood in American Political Life ,” said celebrity activism is a lot more visible this year as stars decide they need to act.
“There have been times historically that the Hollywood community has mobilized when they feel that there are very pressing issues at hand and that they’re willing to go beyond and enter into the political arena in ways in which perhaps some of them had felt uncomfortable before because it could alienate certain fans,” she said.
The idea of Trump in the Oval Office was part of the reason film and TV producer Juliet Blake joined a new group, the superPAC-backed Creatives For Humanity, which hopes to amplify the voice of artists in the election.
She’d never been political, but, as a daughter of immigrants whose grandparents died in Auschwitz, she felt she had to this year. “Every time I heard Donald Trump use the words ‘wall’ or talks about immigrants and deportation, a little bit of me died inside,” she said.
Another newcomer to politics this year is Tony Award-winner Kristin Chenoweth, who plans to mock Trump from a Broadway stage during her November concerts . She’ll flip her hair into a Trump-ish pompadour and belt out the song “Popular” about him.
Despite her conservative, Christian background, Chenoweth won’t endorse Trump and has spoken up politically for the first time. “I think that this is the election certainly of my lifetime,” she said. “I feel like, if not now, then when do it?”
In this file photo, Robert De Niro attends a special 40th anniversary screening of “Taxi Driver” during the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival in New York. The 2016 election has provoked a visceral, intense response from many in the arts community, prompting songs, videos and uncommon ferocity against Trump, arguably once one of their own. De Niro called Trump “a dog,” “a pig,” “an idiot” and “a mutt, who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”