Donald Glover, Tracee Ellis Ross & Meryl Streep Used Awards For Acting To Get Real (Videos)
Last night (January 9), the Golden Globes aired and with only 11 days until Donald Trump’s inauguration, the evening was peppered with political commentary. Donald Glover, Meryl Streep, and Tracee Ellis Ross all used their time on stage to accept awards to address the current climate of racism and politics, and although not mentioned by name, Trump’s influence in shaping the stars’s addresses is clearly present – and they kept it realer than real.
However, yesterday’s speeches are just evidence of what seems to be a growing trend: the acceptance speech as political manifesto. Just last year, Grey’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams delivered one of the most potent speeches in entertainment history, using the BET Awards stage to shine the spotlight on racial injustices, particularly as they relate to the whitewashing of Black culture.” We’re done watching and waiting while this invention called Whiteness uses and abuses us, burying Black people out of sight and out of mind while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil, black gold,” he said at the time. At the 2015 Emmy Awards, Viola Davis accepted the award for Best Actress in a Drama Series, and used her time to discuss the lack of diversity in Hollywood. “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity,” she said before adding “you cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”
In the months since Williams and Davis delivered those addresses, many of the issues they touched upon continue to be problematic, but there has indeed been some progress made. The governing body of the Academy Awards is now the most diverse its ever been, thanks in part to the #OscarsSoWhite social-media movement. Some would argue that television today represents more Black culture and storytelling than ever before, and Donald Glover’s Golden Globes win for Best Television Series, Musical or Comedy and Best Actor in a TV Comedy or Musical (both for Atlanta) can be taken as proof positive (as could Moonlight‘s win for Best Motion Picture Drama).
In fact, Glover spoke directly to Black America in his acceptance speech for Best Series, saying “I really want to thank Atlanta and all the, like, Black folks in Atlanta. Like for real. Like, just for being alive and for being amazing people. I couldn’t be here without Atlanta,” he said before shouting out the Migos and “Bad and Boujee.” In and of itself, that shout out is indicative of Black culture permeating mainstream American culture to such a degree that a space not traditionally thought of as being particularly progressive is in fact a perfect place to elevate the visibility of Black artistry.
In his backstage speech, he called Migos “the Beatles of this generation, and they don’t get a lot of respect.” He also expanded the political skew of his formal acceptance speech, saying “I think now we live in a time that’s very divisive, and I think Meryl Streep was speaking on this a lot. We all have a lot of responsibility.” He continues by explaining that he feels responsible for giving joy to and creating magic for people who aren’t given it freely (a statement very much echoing Jesse Williams’s words last year): “you have a responsibility to keep that going and understand why you’re doing it. Because of joy. So I think human joy is super important. It doesn’t come from computers…I think it’s our responsibility to make magic again, because I think a lot of the shit that’s happening now is bullshit.”
Glover was referring to Streep’s acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille Award earlier in the evening, in which she brought the house down with an impassioned political statement. In it, she made several indirect references to President Elect Trump, including touching on his recent anti Hollywood, anti immigrant, and anti press rants on Twitter. Her most powerful anti Trump statement came in the form of her discussing his treatment of a disabled performer back during the primary campaign season, which she says “stunned me.” Saying that his mocking disdain “sank its hooks in my heart,” she continues to explain that his behavior “made its intended audience laugh and show its teeth,” suggesting that Trump’s success in the election is symptomatic of a nationwide trend of prejudice. “This instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone on a public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life. ‘Cause it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”
Tracee Ellis Ross is also turning heads, not just because she won her first Golden Globe as Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy TV Series last night. The blackish star and industry veteran brought women of color to the forefront of her acceptance speech, saying “this is for all the women of color and colorful people shoe stories, ideas, thoughts are not always considered worthy and invalid and important.” It was yet another indication of how omnipresent racial issues are in contemporary American politics, but she reminded listeners not to be discouraged. “I want you to know I see you. We see you. It is an honor to be on this show blackish and to expand the way we are seen and known. And to show the magic and the beauty and the sameness of a story and stories that are outside of where the industry usually looks.”
That final point is an important one, and as Jesse Williams and Viola Davis both touched on, Hollywood (and by extension, the United States in general) continues to dismiss and overlook the contributions of Black stars. This was well on display at last night’s Golden Globes during one particularly telling (though very brief and subdued) moment before the ceremony even began. Pharrell Williams was being interviewed on the red carpet about Hidden Figures, a film centered on untold Black history in which he was deeply involved on the soundtrack and general promotion of the film. In the awkward and very telling moment in question, Today co-correspondent Jenna Bush Hager referred to the film as “Hidden Fences,” clearly a subconscious blending of Hidden Figures and Fences, the latter an equally important story centering on the Black American experience, directed by and starring Denzel Washington (and costarring Viola Davis). Whether intentional or not, Hager’s slip up is being pointed to as yet another example of America’s continued tendency to take only a feigning interest in Black storytelling, with the Washington Post pointing out that Michael Keaton made the same mistake.
Together, Donald Glover, Meryl Streep, and Tracee Ellis Ross helped keep Americans focused on what’s really important while celebrating the artistic and creative endeavors of some of this country’s most talented individuals. As the awards show season begins to heat up and Donald Trump gets ready to become our next president, we could be in for one of the greatest battles between the press, entertainment industry, and politicians in history. Get the popcorn ready.