Are award ceremonies a place for politics?

With more and more celebrities using award ceremonies as a platform for political statements, Rachel Farrell discusses the power of celebrities using their voices for change.

Awards season is usually a time to celebrate the film industry, but 2018 saw a new wave of political opinions taking to the red carpet.

Accepting the Cecil B. DeMille award at the Golden Globes, Oprah took to the stage to give an emotional speech. Rather than thanking the usual family, friends and teammates, Oprah’s speech sent the world into a frenzy.

“It’s not just a story affecting the entertainment industry. It’s one that transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics, or workplace. So I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue.

“I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon. And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say ‘Me too’ again,” she said.

The speech touched on racism, sexual assault and abuse in the industry. It brought many people to tears, because of how unexpected and opinionated it was.

The ‘TimesUp’ movement has brought mixed opinions to the board. Actors and celebrities alike decided to wear black for awards season in honour of those who have experienced sexual assault during the career.

While most of the online community praised their efforts, those who didn’t participate or didn’t wear black for every awards show were heavily criticised. When the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton wore emerald green to the BAFTAs, critics tore her apart for her lack of support- even though the royal family aren’t supposed to show political bias.

By the time the Oscars came around, celebrities had stopped wearing black, but many men and women wore a small ‘TimesUp’ badge for solidarity. Host of the night Jimmy Kimmel jokingly warned celebrities that speeches had to be short on the night, leaving little room for political statements.

While actors and actresses should be praised for publicly making a stand, some have questioned whether awards shows are the place for making such statements.

But when awards shows like the Oscars draw in millions of viewers across the world, it’s easy to see why celebrities are using them to get their voices heard. With topics like sexism and racism on the cards, it’s difficult to understand the backlash such speeches can receive.

If they don’t speak out on important topics, they’re criticised. If they do, they face backlash. Presenter and controversial Twitter user Piers Morgan described Meryl Streep’s anti-Trump speech as “hypocrisy”, but many others praised her words. They can’t win and they can’t lose.

Yes, sometimes the long speeches can be boring and drawn out. But when they’re used to bring awareness to minority groups or important social issues, with millions of people watching, it can only be a good thing.

Celebrities can use the free speech card too and we should spend more time applauding them for using their platform for the better rather than tearing them down.

Rachel Farrell

Image Credit: The Irish Times EPA/HFPA