January 9, 2017
On Sunday night at the Golden Globes, Meryl Streep was given the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award and gave what quickly became a polarizing acceptance speech. In her speech, she exhorted everyone to hold those in power to account on this monumental eve of the changing of the guards in the United States. She used her spotlight to call attention to our duty and responsibility to question and speak out where we see injustice and to expect our leaders to comport themselves with dignity and compassion. In part, she said,
“This instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”
The polarizing aspect of this speech is appalling to me. I find it difficult to take exception to the idea that we should expect the powerful to use their powers for the benefit of all, rather than to use that power to bully others. There is a flurry of conversation, however, about the fact that those ‘Hollywood types’ have no business politicizing an entertainment forum; they should just, in essence, ‘shut up and just do their jobs’. How is it, by virtue of their chosen profession, there are people who seem to have decided that they are not entitled to their opinions? That they are not entitled to share their opinions? I am not a politician; I am not a legal analyst or a foreign or domestic policy expert. I have never held a public office, and yet I am an intelligent, knowledgeable individual with valid opinions and insight. The stakes are high, and my life, and the lives of all Americans, will be impacted by decisions and actions of our President-elect. Therefore, my opinion matters. My voice matters. Why is it that someone like Meryl Streep, or even Jimmy Fallon, Golden Globes host, isn’t entitled to share their opinions as well? Streep has a career as an actress; it’s not her sole identity. It’s not the only thing about which she should be allowed to speak. She is a citizen, just like you, just like me. She happens to have a very public forum in which to share her opinions and to use her power—the power of access to audience—to speak to and for those who don’t have that privilege. She is, in fact, modeling exactly what she wishes to see in the leader of her country: to use her power to model the way in which power should be used in order to benefit others who don’t have a voice. She did so with grace and clarity, without resorting to name-calling. Trump, on the other hand, took to Twitter, which is apparently his primary means of communication, to call Streep “one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood” who is a “Hillary flunky who lost big”.
Streep’s speech was a bold one, because as she was exercising her First Amendment right of free speech, she knew that she was risking losing fans who did not agree with her politics—movie goers who have the right to spend their hard-earned cash at the box office and to speak with their dollars. She knew that she risked alienating those who did not agree with her views—and she did it anyway. We HAVE to be willing to put ourselves on the line and speak up for what we believe in, lest our silence be taken for tacit agreement. So as our President-elect is pushing forward confirmation hearings on a slate of appointed officials who have not yet completed the standard ethics review process, and as Senator Paul Ryan is pushing to defund Planned Parenthood, effectively limiting access to reproductive health and cancer screenings for people who are historically underserved and underrepresented, it is our responsibility to speak out, call our government representatives, and to use our forums no matter how big or small, to continue to hold our government to account.