Are Award Shows The Right Platform To Make Political Messages?

We’re currently in the midst of the award season for the film, television and music industries. The best films, actors and actresses, directors, television shows, writers, songs, producers and artists are being honoured and acknowledged for their exceptional contributions to their respected industries. Each winner is invited on stage, and then given less time than they need to thank whoever they want.

Most of these speeches are your standard affair of thanking family, cast members and any other influencers. However, occasionally a winner will use their award win as a public platform to spread a political or social message. Recent examples include Meryl Streep’s 2017 Golden Globe speech against then United States President-elect Donald Trump, or Leonard DiCaprio’s 2016 Oscars acceptance speech touching on the reality of climate change.

With the Oscars only days away (Sunday 26 February, North America) I ponder: should award winners be using their award winner speeches at industry events to spread political and social messages? It’s a subject I’m currently torn on, and I’d love to know your thoughts once you’re finished reading and understand my conflicting points of argument.

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What celebrities say is instantly newsworthy

On the one hand, there is no more public platform than an awards show. The award winner is given the spotlight exclusively for a couple of minutes and free reign to speak about anything they want. Celebrities have proven to be some of the most influential figures when speaking out about social issues. So when we combine the two, the message becomes instantly newsworthy and spreadable.

The mainstream news media thrives on the entertainment sector and what celebrities say and do. This is especially true when political statements are made that may cause conflict. Streep’s political views were spread around the world by news organisations because it created a narrative of conflict between her and Trump. A quick internet search for ‘Golden Globes’ still brings up news articles about Streep’s speech.

That’s the undeniable power that celebrity messages have when news organisations catch on.

Awards nights are about recognising achievements

On the other hand, does preaching about social issues during awards shows detract from the award actually being won? Without searching for it, could you tell me the award Streep was accepting at the Golden Globes? It was the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award, a prestigious award for “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment” (Wikipedia). In the context of the award, Streep’s powerful speech has some relevance. She speaks out against the immigration bans President Trump was threatening to bring in, highlighting the diverse talent that makes up Hollywood and the industry she’s contributed so much too.

However, in doing so, the news coming out of the Golden Globes was “Meryl Streep attacks Donald Trump”, rather than “Meryl Streep wins an award for outstanding contributions to entertainment”. You could say it’s selfless of award winners to take the spotlight away from their successes to highlight issues they feel are more important. But the whole idea of an awards night is to take a night to acknowledge the contributions of people in the industry and the projects they’ve helped to create.

Entertainment can’t help but be wrapped up in politics. Many movies, novels, comics, and songs draw from the world around them to tell stories. The science-fiction genre is especially great at displaying politics in a metaphorical sense, as are many rap albums. I’m not saying keep your politics out of my awards night. Let’s maybe just think about whether it’s the right platform.

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Does the message fit the platform?

We’ll keep with the Streep scenario because it’s the most relevant. Clearly Streep feels extremely passionate about the issue and understands that what she says has a tremendous influence on her peers and consumers of her work. Had she expressed her speech through social media, through a series of Tweets or Facebook posts, or a similarly lengthy video, or if she had appeared on a talk show with the same message, would it have been as effective? I think so. Maybe it would not have been accompanied by the same raw emotion, but you can guarantee the news angle would have remained the same. Especially considering it would have come from someone of Streep’s celebrity status.

On February 11, Streep accepted an award from the Human Rights Campaign for being an Ally for Equality, and made another speech against President Trump. Considering the nature of the award, this is the perfect stage for such a speech, and it received equally as much media coverage.

Ultimately, it’s up to an award recipient to decide what they want to talk about when they are given the spotlight. The spoken word is a very powerful tool, and an awards night like the Oscars is the ultimate soapbox. However, if making that message detracts from the overall aim of the awards night – recognising the exceptional contributions of talented people – is it really the right platform to be using?

I’d love to know your thoughts.


Nathan is the founder of Think First Entertainment. You can find him on Twitter @Nathan_M96.

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