In this elec­tion year, celebri­ties take their gloves off

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FEATURES - By Mark Kennedy

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?”

PHOTO BY CHARLES SYKES — INVISION — AP, FILE

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.”

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