The SAG Awards got super political
2017: The year even the awards shows became protests
President Donald Trump's efforts to insult Meryl Streep following her remarks at the Golden Globes appear to have had the opposite of the intended effect. Rather than tamp down Hollywood criticism of the new administration, Sunday's 53rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards doubled as a referendum on President Donald Trump's immigrant ban, which provoked large protests across the nation this weekend. "Good evening," said Ashton Kutcher, taking the stage to welcome SAG members, "everyone at home, and everyone in airports that belong in my America," he said, pounding his chest. "You are a part of the fabric of who we are and we love you and we welcome you."
The messaging wasn't limited to those onstage: On a translucent message board where actors could write messages to fans, Riz Ahmed wrote "Stand up 4 wat's right." From her table, Kerry Washington delivered a statement that amounted to an accidental thesis for the evening: "A lot of people are saying right now that actors should keep our mouths shut when it comes to politics," she said. "But the truth is, no matter what, actors are activists because we embody the humanity and worth of all people."
Not everyone came prepared. A flustered Emma Stone concluded her thanks for the award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role for La La Land with an earnest plea: "We're in a really tricky time in the world and our country, and things are very inexcusable and scary and need action," she said. William H. Macy — honored for the deadbeat dad he plays in Showtime's Shameless — joked: "I would like to go against the strain this evening and thank President Trump for making Frank Gallagher seem so normal." And Bryan Cranston speculated that Lyndon Johnson — whom he played in All the Way — would wish Trump success with a warning: "Just don't piss in the soup that all of us gotta eat."
The ceremony only became more politically engaged as the night went on. Sarah Paulson asked people to donate to the ACLU while receiving her award for American Crime Story. Accepting her award for her performance as Rose Maxson in Fences, Viola Davis reflected on how meaningful it was to her that, in Fences, August Wilson "honored the average man, who happened to be a man of color." And speaking for the cast of Hidden Figures, Taraji Henson observed that "this story is of unity, this story is of what happens when we put our differences aside, and we come together as a human race, we win. Love wins, every time."
When Julia Louis-Dreyfus won Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series, she joked about crowd sizes before growing serious:
My father fled religious persecution in Nazi-occupied France, and I'm an American patriot, and I love this country. And because I love this country, I am horrified by its blemishes, and this immigrant ban is a blemish and it is un-American.
She shook with emotion as she read a statement from the Writers Guild of America: "Our guilds are unions of storytellers, who have always welcomed those from the nations and of various beliefs who wish to share their creativity with America. We are grateful for them, we stand with them, and we will fight for them."
Mahershala Ali gave a moving speech in response to winning the award for Male Actor in a Supporting Role for his work in Moonlight:
What I've learned from working on Moonlight is: We see what happened when we persecute people. They fold into themselves. And what I was so grateful about in having the opportunity to play Juan was playing a gentleman who saw a young man folding into himself as a result of the persecution of his community and taking that opportunity to uplift him, and tell him that he mattered, and that he was okay, and accept him. And, uh, I hope we do a better job of that.
Ali paused there, clearly overcome.
When we get caught up in the minutiae, the details that make us all different, I think there's two ways of seeing that. There's the opportunity to see the texture of that person, the characteristics that make them unique. And then there's the opportunity to go to war about, to say that person is different from me, and I don't like you, let's battle. My mother is an ordained minister. I'm a Muslim. She didn't do back flips when I called her to tell her I converted 17 years ago, but I tell you now we put things to the side. I'm able to see her, she's able to see me, we love each other, the love has grown, and that stuff is minutiae, it's not that important.
Receiving the SAG Life Achievement Award, Lily Tomlin said: "I feel like I'm just getting started. What sign should I make for the next march? So much to do. Global warming. Standing Rock. LGBT issues. Chinese missiles. Immigration." And the cast of Orange is the New Black (winners for Ensemble in a Comedy Series) said: "We stand up here representing a diverse group of people, representing generations of families that have sought a better life here, from places like Nigeria, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Ireland, Brooklyn, and we know it's going to be up to us and all of you probably too, to keep telling stories that show what unites us is stronger than the forces that seek to divide us."
But the biggest cheer of the night came from an unexpected quarter. David Harbour, who played Chief Jim Hopper on Netflix's Stranger Things — winner for Ensemble in a Drama Series — delivered a barnburner of a speech:
This award from you, who take your craft seriously and earnestly believe, like me, that great acting can change the world, is a call to arms from our fellow craftsmen and women to go deeper and, through our art, to battle against fear, self-centeredness, and exclusivity of our predominantly narcissistic culture, and through our craft, cultivate a more empathetic and understanding society by revealing intimate truths that serve as a forceful reminder to folks that when they feel broken, and afraid, and tired, they are not alone.
We are united in that we are all human beings and we are all together in this horrible, painful, joyous, exciting and mysterious ride that is being alive. Now, as we act in the continuing narrative of Stranger Things, we 1983 midwesterners will repel bullies. We will shelter freaks and outcasts, those who have no homes. We will get past the lies. We will hunt monsters. And when we are lost amidst the hypocrisy and casual violence of certain individuals and institutions, we will, as per Chief Jim Hopper, punch some people in the face when they seek to destroy the weak, and the disenfranchised, and the marginalized, and we will do it all with soul, with heart, and joy.
The crowd went wild. "We thank you for this responsibility," Harbour said.
2017: The year even the awards shows became protests.