In the dark recesses of the HBO post-Golden Globes party, a debate raged over whether it was appropriate for Meryl Streep to denounce Donald Trump during her acceptance speech on the telecast.
Opinions were sharply divided.
On one side, a prominent actress defended Streep’s right to express herself. On the other, a prominent actor said he thought Streep was just opening herself up to criticism and why do it?
A studio chief joining the conversation agreed with him, wondering aloud if calling out Trump played into the hands of his supporters, who already accuse Hollywood of being out of touch.
“People don’t want to hear from Hollywood right now,” said a leading publicist, evoking cries of protest from the actress who insisted that what the country needs most is for everyone to listen to one another.
What Streep did — criticizing the president-elect on an awards-show stage — is in a long tradition of actors using their moment in the national spotlight to focus on an unrelated issue. Michael Moore has done it many times, and Marlon Brando famously sent a Native American surrogate to make his point instead of doing it himself.
But it’s always risky. And in the current climate, Hollywood figures are understandably wary of the often vicious backlash that results from offering even a carefully woven political statement. Especially when Trump himself responded to Streep’s speech overnight by dismissing her as an “one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood” and a “Hillary flunky.”
When is the right time to raise a voice again, and in what forum?
It’s not hard to find people in Hollywood eager to avoid provoking the pro-Trump mob. Celebrities feel burned by the election and bruised by the nasty invective in its aftermath. Many of those who stumped heavily for Hillary Clinton have, not surprisingly, been silent in the wake of the election.
So Streep may have opened the door. “Of course it’s appropriate for her to speak out at the Globes” about Trump, said Russell Simmons, the music producer, entrepreneur and political activist, who was there with Renée Elise Goldsberry of “Hamilton” fame.
Speaking of those who expressed fear, Simmons said, “What Meryl said will give them courage.”
Plenty of people said they admired Streep’s bravery, and I couldn’t find anyone who disagreed with the substance of her remarks, in which she said she was “heartbroken” at Trump’s mocking of a disabled reporter while campaigning in fall 2015.
“Disrespect invites disrespect,” she said from the podium. “Violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”
Her words exploded into a standing ovation in the room, whatever was happening on social media or elsewhere in America.
“I thought she could’ve gone further,” said one head of an independent film studio, speaking outside the party. (Streep never mentioned Trump by name in her speech.)
“She had every right to express her opinion, it’s her moment, she earned that,” said a lawyer who was part of the gaggle.
Celebrities have clearly taken a long beat in the wake of Trump’s election. With awards season upon us — meaning lots of moments at podiums available — and with the presidential inauguration just around the corner, many in Hollywood must have listened to Streep’s speech and wondered if they should follow suit and risk the backlash — or stick to the script, and regret missing an opportunity down the road.
It’s hard to take on the president-elect of the United State but it’s even harder to invite an avalanche of hateful pushback from the angry chorus on social media and elsewhere.
The choices are upon them. Screen Actors Guild awards are looming, and so are lots of other televised ceremonies. Meanwhile, I couldn’t find anyone who said they would attend the inauguration, where one performer after another has declined inducements and perks to sing at Trump’s opening party.
The entertainment community is still in mourning — no longer in paralyzed shock, perhaps, but weighing their next moves carefully.
But maybe something good will come of it. As Streep said, quoting her friend Carrie Fisher, “Take your broken heart, and make it into art.”