Debate: Have Award Shows Become Too Political?

Over the years, award shows have become a forum for entertainers to take a political stance and speak up for a particular movement or cause but have modern-day award shows become too political?

Every winter, the biggest names in film, television, stage and music come together to celebrate achievements in their field in a series of grand, over-the-top ceremonies which honor and recognize the work dedicated perfecting their craft. It’s an age-old tradition which viewers have long joined in on from home critiquing stars’ red carpet looks, laughing along with Hollywood’s elite during the opening monologue and trying their luck at predicting which nominees will walk away with the night’s top honors.

The following day, they’ll join their friends, family and colleagues in dissecting each of the night’s big moments including the shocking upset wins and the unforgettable moments that occurred before, during and after the event. Most importantly, these awards ceremonies serve as an often much-needed escape from the real world and the problems facing the nation and we as individuals.

However, the 2016-17 awards season has taken a slightly different tone than the awards seasons of yesterday. Rather than serving as a night of escapism, events such as the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards have taken a more political tone with the night’s honorees using their time on the stage to address the country’s current leader and the political moves implemented under his presidency.

As a result, the 2016-17 awards season has become one of the most polarizing seasons in years, leaving many with one simple question on their mind: Have award shows become too political?

With awards season in full swing, my colleague Erin Qualey and I came together to debate the trend of addressing politics at award shows in hopes of sparking a conversation among readers.

Cody: As we’ve seen so far this season with the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards (among others), award shows have recently become more politically charged than ever before serving a forum for Hollywood’s biggest names to address the currently political environment and the topics the nation is currently facing. While I’m all for using the platform given to them through their fame and success in television and movies, I’ve recently started to question whether award shows have become too political. After all, the original point of shows such as these was to celebrate the achievements made in film and television.

Erin: I do love the escapism of good award show, but I don’t think that the entertainment industry addressing political issues in live speeches is anything new. Most memorably, Marlon Brando sent Native American actress Sacheen Littlefeather to decline his Academy Award for Best Actor back in 1973. Brando utilized his moment of notoriety to make a bold statement about the treatment of Native Americans in the country, as well as the negative depiction of the group in the media.

In the years since then, recipients of awards have certainly used winning speeches as an opportunity to be heard. As politics have become more divisive in this new presidential administration, more performers are definitely taking up the mantle, and I think that’s totally their right. They put in the work and won the award, so why shouldn’t they use the time as they see fit?

Cody: I’m all for using the platform given to them through their success in film, television, music and stage but at what point does it become too much about politics and not enough about the real reason viewers across the nation are tuning in – which is to see if their favorite stars pick up a much deserved win for their memorable performance?

It’s no secret that celebrities have used award shows as a platform to address issues over the years, but therein lies the issue. When performers and screenwriters such as Brando, Leonardo DiCaprio, Viola Davis, and John Irving discussed politics in their acceptance speeches their focus was on bringing notice to a particular issue – be it Native American rights, abortion, gender/race equality, etc. But lately, the talk of politics has shifted away from bringing awareness to particular issues and has taken a turn to speaking out against one sole politician: Donald Trump.

I’m far from a fan of our nation’s new leader, but it’s hard not to avoid the question of whether award shows have become too political when the Golden Globes and SAG Awards start to feel more like a political roast than a celebration of achievements in film and television.

Erin: Ooo, I do like your point about the shows turning into a political roast, but I think you can look at this situation two different ways. First, I think some viewers that didn’t previously watch awards shows might tune in to see what their favorite celebs have to say about the matter, both on the red carpet and in their speeches. This definitely takes away from the escapism of the event, but it might bring in a whole new set of eyes for ratings.

Second, I get your point about shedding light on a particular cause, but since the political landscape is so divisive, using the platform to speak out about other issues might cause backlash for outspoken celebrities whose fans are expecting them to address the large issues in the current administration. Also, although it seems like a roast focusing on one person, the speeches cover a whole host of concerning news coming out of the White House since Trump became president.  From the under qualified picks on Trump’s cabinet to his alarming executive orders, shocking news that, to some, threatens the very fabric of our country, seems to be coming at us every day, so wouldn’t it make sense for celebrities to exercise their right to free speech in order to protest changes that they feel are un-American?

Cody: I like the idea of viewers tuning into an awards show to see what their favorite  celebrity has to say about politics, but the truth is most viewers tune into these shows out of curiosity of who will walk away with the win and to see if any major water-cooler worthy moments might happen – such as Jennifer Lawrence’s fall at the Oscars in 2013 or when Angelina Jolie’s red carpet pose at the 2012 Oscars became a viral sensation.

There is absolutely no denying or arguing that their right to free speech is lesser than yours or mine. I believe the issue that lies within the core of the conversation is the perception of Hollywood as an elite community that is out of touch with the everyday Americans who are watching their shows and buying tickets to see their movies who happen to share opposing views but still enjoy their work and enjoy tuning in during awards season to see who will walk away with the night’s top prizes. As 2-time Oscar and Golden Globe nominated actor and producer Mark Wahlberg best put it while promoting his film The Patriot last fall:

“A lot of celebrities did, do and shouldn’t  [talk about politics]. They might buy your CD or watch your movie, but you don’t put food on their table. You don’t pay their bills. A lot of Hollywood is living in a bubble. They’re pretty out of touch with the common person, the everyday guy out there providing for their family. “

Erin: I agree with the fact that many celebrities, Meryl Streep included, live far out of touch with reality as it stands for much of America. However, when people speak about their actual experiences, such as when Mahershala Ali proudly and passionately spoke about his Muslim heritage in his SAG speech only hours after the immigration ban went into effect, I think it touches on something real and undeniably powerful for both the performer and the audience. Those moments still end up being water cooler moments; they’re just water cooler moments that come with a sobering bite of emotion.

That said, I truly hope that we don’t have to live in a world where politics are so hot that they dominate the conversation wherever we go. I think that the idea behind the recent spate of speeches is the hope that this is not the new normal, and that one day we can go back to having awards ceremonies without a heaping side of activism.

Time for you to weigh in on the conversation! Do you believe that award shows have become too political? Keep the conversation going in the comments section below!