The Grammys, Golden Globes and all other award shows have turned into an outlet for celebrities to voice their political opinions, and we’re all better off for it
Over the past few years, award shows have undergone drastic structural changes. The Oscars no longer have a host. The Golden Globes dinner is now entirely plant based. However, no change has been bigger than the shift of award acceptance speeches from simple monologues of gratitude to political tirades.
Perhaps the first big instance of this was Leonardo DiCaprio’s speech after winning the Best Actor award at the Oscars in February 2016. As millions of fans watched DiCaprio accept his first Oscar, instead of talking about how long he had been waiting for the award like everyone expected him to, he spent a minute saying his thank you’s and then launched into a rant about the environment.
The audience of celebrities sat transfixed as DiCaprio regaled them with a series of bold statements, including “Climate change is real,” “It’s the most urgent threat facing our entire species,” “for those people out there whose voices who have been drowned out by the politics of greed.”
It was the first major acceptance speech of its kind, but it would not be the last.
Just one year later, renowned actress Meryl Streep delivered a potent speech attacking then President-Elect Donald Trump for making fun of a disabled reporter, and talking about the need for a free press. Streep went well over her time limit, but no one booted her off stage because what she was doing was unprecedented and admirable.
“Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence,” Streep said. “And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”
Other actors began taking note of the new trend and decided they would give it a go, including Andrew Garfield at the 2018 Tonys. Garfield talked about the struggles of the LGBTQ community and how they deserved to be treated the same as everyone else.
“It is a spirit that says no to oppression; it is a spirit that says no to bigotry, no to shame, no to exclusion. It is a spirit that says we are all made perfectly and we all belong,” Garfield said. “So let’s just bake a cake for everyone who wants a cake to be baked.”
While Garfield, Streep and DiCaprio spoke about vastly different topics, they had one theme in common. They used their platform for something more.
For decades, these speeches have had the same format. Thank you Mom. Thank you Dad. Thank you to the production company, to my spouse, to the other actors in the production and the other actors who did not win but had such brilliant performances.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you Leo for throwing a wrench in the format of acceptance speeches. We’re all tired of all the gratitude. We know you’re grateful for everyone. We know that you would not have been able to do it without their support.
What we do not know is what else they can do with that time in the spotlight.
DiCaprio loves the environment and has fought for environmental issues for years. He wants to stop climate change and the best way to do this is through awareness. If one person decides to change their lifestyle, to recycle more and maybe bike to work instead of driving, that will make a small difference. If millions of people make the same small decisions, the ripple effect will be monolithic.
Streep is a kindhearted woman. She saw an abuse of power and called the president-to-be out on it on national television. That takes guts. Streep fought a culture of bigotry and used her speech to inspire change in the way we treat others.
Garfield used his platform to fight for equality among the LGBTQ community. When people, no matter their political views, see a celebrity they love and respect advocating for something bigger than themselves, that just might incite a change in heart.
You accomplish nothing by telling the world how grateful you are. Your family and cast and crew already know that. You can tell them that at literally any point. However, even celebrities only have a live audience of millions at a handful of times in their lives.
Should they waste it, or should they use it for something more?