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On January 8, 2017, actress Streep won the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards, which recognizes those who achieve distinction in the entertainment industry through their performances. In her acceptance speech, without even directly using his name, Streep took a stand against President Donald Trump and mentioned his crude imitation of a disabled reporter. After graciously accepting her award and thanking all those who have helped her, Streep recalled the performance from 2016 that stunned her the most: “It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back.”
President Trump immediately retaliated, tweeting “Meryl Streep, one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood, doesn’t know me but attacked last night at the Golden Globes.” In the following tweets, Trump explained how he never mocked the disable reporter (despite the video of him doing so) but rather claimed that he “simply showed him ‘groveling’ when he totally changed a 16 year old story to make me look bad.”
Supporters of Trump fought back. The host of the politically charged web-show on The Blaze, Tomi, Tomi Lahren stated that “without the Electoral College, people like Meryl Streep and the rest of the Hollywood elite would have a stranglehold on the rest of the country.” Lahren also insisted that Streep forgets “the football- and MMA-loving rest of the country between the two coasts that break their backs to put food on the table, pay the mortgage, and send their American-born children to college.” Lahren ended the video with an unscrupulous attack on the email scandal that rocked Hillary Clinton’s campaign—something that has nothing to do with the Trump/Streep controversy. Trump supporters were not the only ones standing up for their side; those who backed Streep quickly spoke up for their ideals. Many of those happened to be other celebrities, which brings up the question of whether Hollywood’s elite should use their influence to speak out about politics.
In recent years, a multitude of celebrities have used their popularity to try to influence politics. The recent situation between President Trump and Meryl Streep is only the cherry on top of a very complex and angry cake. Many celebrities declare their cause during awards acceptance speeches. Another notable example was actor Jesse Williams, of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy fame, who spoke for the Black Lives Matter Movement after being awarded BET’s Humanitarian Award last summer. Williams called out those who have publicly criticized the movement, saying, “If you have no interest, if you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.” This speech, similar to Streep’s, had people from all sides of the ideological spectrum speaking up. Williams earned a standing ovation. BET.com’s headline stated that he “spits knowledge like a seasoned MC and speaks for all and says what many of us have felt for a while.”
Others were not so complimentary, some even creating a petition asking to fire Williams from Grey’s Anatomy.
Other celebrities constantly face criticism. Taylor Swift, who, despite being labeled as an avid feminist, did not attend any of the Women’s Marches that took place the day after Trump’s inauguration. Swift did tweet that she was proud to be a woman on the day of the march, but for some, including fans, it was not enough. Swift does, however, tend to stay out of politics; she believes she does not know enough about the world and thus does not want to share her opinion. Swift is not the only celebrity to stay out of the political limelight. When Mark Wahlberg was asked about politics and opted not to answer, he told the veterans news publication Task and Purpose that “A lot of celebrities did, do, and shouldn’t.” Wahlberg believes that celebrities should stay out of politics because they do not know what it is like to be the average American.
The first amendment of the constitution grants United States citizens with freedom of speech. As Americans, Streep and Williams have a right to speak up and tell their audiences their beliefs in order to start an open and politically diverse conversation. This, however, does not mean that Swift and Wahlberg should be openly talking about their opinions. Freedom of speech also allows for freedom of not speaking. It is perfectly acceptable for celebrities to stay private about their views, if they are afraid of possibly being attacked or believe that they do not know enough about the topic. The “Hollywood Elite” has a right to use their influence to instigate change, and no members of this group should receive any hate about what they stand up for or if they stay quiet.