At the 2017 Golden Globes, Meryl Streep began her acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille Award by describing "one performance this year that stunned me." It was, she clarified, Donald Trump's impersonation of disabled New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski on the campaign trail in late 2015. Spurred on by righteous anger, she spoke about the importance of empathy, the contributions of foreigners in the arts, and the role of the press in holding our political leaders to account — three functions that Trump's presidency will endanger.
"This instinct to humiliate," she continued, "when it's modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody's life, because it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing."
"Say it, Meryl!" Frank Ocean wrote on his Tumblr this morning.
Streep used her own public platform to show the Golden Globes's 16.7 million viewers that the instinct to speak up can be just as impactful as the instinct to put down. #MerylStreep was trending on Twitter within minutes of her speech, and this morning the president-elect himself responded to her message.
But did the awards ceremony as an institution make the most of its immense platform for political conversation and change? Streep wasn't alone in taking a stand: actors including Tracee Ellis Ross, Lola Kirke, and Hugh Laurie all used the occasion to make political statements. But at the first major awards show since the election of potentially the most venomous president in U.S. history, you might have expected a more high-stakes response from some of the nation's most influential (and predominantly liberal) public figures.
For one thing, Donald Trump's name was never spoken. Streep alluded to "the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country," Laurie joked about a "psychopathic [billionaire]," and Jimmy Fallon compared Trump to "evil boy-king" Joffrey Baratheon from Game of Thrones. While the Golden Globes are traditionally treated like a bubbly, informal prelude to the more serious Oscars, was this a missed opportunity to take a stand? To liken Trump to a character from a fantasy TV show felt like an unhelpful attempt to fictionalize rather than confront our reality.
The ceremony also exposed how imperfect Hollywood still is as a model for race relations. When Tracee Ellis Ross won the award for Best Actress in a Television Series (for her role in Black-ish), she beautifully dedicated it to "all of the women, women of color, and colorful people, whose stories, ideas, thoughts are not always considered worthy, and valid and important." "I want you to know that I see you. We see you," she said in a moving speech. Yet, the Golden Globes continued to misrepresent the work of directors and actors of color. On the red carpet, presenter Jenna Bush Hager conflated the names of two major films featuring African-American casts, asking Pharrell Williams about his contribution to "Hidden Fences." Later, Michael Keaton repeated the same mistake when presenting the Best Supporting Actress award. And within minutes of Ellis Ross's tribute to Black-ish's role in "expanding the way [people of color] are seen and known," actress Sofía Vergara delivered a joke that played directly into negative stereotypes of Latina women.
Then there were the award announcements themselves. Musical La La Land broke the all-time record for the number of Golden Globes won by a single film, winning all seven of the categories for which it was nominated. While the film was deservedly praised for being the joyful sparkling lovefest that it is, it was hard to ignore that its victories were being awarded by a press association dedicated to the very town in which the film was set. Especially when an outsider film like Moonlight continually lost out. Director Barry Jenkins's radical portrayal of black gay manhood in a working class Miami neighborhood — exactly one of the topics Tracee Ellis Ross described as a "story [...] outside where the industry usually looks" — took home just one of the six honors for which it was nominated. (Cue: the Twitter hashtag #JusticeforMoonlight.)
A recurring theme in the night's handful of political speeches was the Trump regime's vilification of Hollywood. Hugh Laurie joked that this might be the last Golden Globes show ever, thanks to Republican hatred for Hollywood. Streep echoed, "You and all of us in this room really belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it: Hollywood, foreigners and the press." While it's true that Trump has regularly spewed disdain for the press and for Hollywood, these groups are by no means the most vilified by, or most vulnerable to, the Trump-Pence axis. What about the LGBTQ community? What about low-income communities? Two groups which were not only not mentioned last night, but are also the exact groups portrayed in the under-recognized Moonlight.
After the ceremony, the film's director, Barry Jenkins, spoke to the press about the movie's single win, for Best Drama Motion Picture. He defined his intention, and that of playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, as accurately portraying the story of how they grew up — as young gay black men in Miami. "It was about getting it right [...] and speaking truth to power," he said. And yet this film, which shone a light on some of the communities that will likely be worst hit by the racist and anti-LGBTQ policies of the incoming administration — this film which spoke truth to the power — was granted just one award.
While the 2017 Globes made powerful gestures towards political resistance — see also the powder-pink "FUCK PAUL RYAN" pin hidden in Lola Kirke's dress — Hollywood as an institution can do more. It needs to use its power to amplify the voices and experiences of artists who represent the communities Trump threatens. And it needs to take advantage of its direct line into the living rooms of America to send a message as serious as our current political situation.
Hollywood awards shows have a long history as stages for major-key acts of political protest. See: the boycotting of the 2016 Oscars ceremony led by Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, or Marlon Brando's decision to send Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather to receive his award for The Godfather in 1973.
At the 89th Academy Awards next month, perhaps attendees will remember Streep's words — that when an action is "modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody's life."
Text Alice Newell-Hanson