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Celebrities engage in social activism

Icons of past generations use their voices to support causes.   | Courtesy of wikimedia.org

 

Award season in the arts celebrates a year full of breakthroughs in film, television, theater and music. For approximately a month and a half, the world hangs on every nomination, award, performance and — most importantly — every speech. This year, many artists used this hallowed space as a way to protest against the president. Many think words of dissent or protest should not intertwined with speeches of gratitude. Before many jump to conclusions, people should remember many artists and celebrities in the past used their platform and fame to protest the contemporary injustices plaguing their generation.

Hollywood fights back

The topic of celebrities using their recognition became a debated topic once again when Meryl Streep denounced President Donald Trump in her acceptance speech for the Golden Globes Lifetime Achievement Award. The famed actress bravely stood against his travel ban executive order to much approval. Conservatives like Tomi Lahren and even the president himself rallied against Streep, saying it was not the right place to discuss political matters. The situation heightened when multiple actors and actresses spoke out against Trump at the SAG awards, which led to even more dissent against Hollywood.

Interestingly enough, these words should not come as a surprise. Many normalized figures of society throughout the last 50 years used their platform to call out injustice. Arguably the most famous instance of a Hollywood star using their platform to protest injustice was Marlon Brando at the 1973 Academy Awards. He employed Sacheen Littlefeather, a representative of the American Indian Movement, to decline Brando’s best actor award for The Godfather in protest. During the brief existence in the ‘60s, music artists such as Simon and Garfunkel beautifully crafted protest music. Songs like “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “7 O’Clock News / Silent Night” contained scathing political messages about Vietnam. Their TV movie special, “Songs of America,” was so politically charged it only aired once on CBS in 1969.

Defiance for progress

The most celebrated boxer of the 20th century, Muhammad Ali, was arrested and stripped of his world championship titles when he objected to the Vietnam War — a conflict that took the lives of 58,000 U.S. servicemen and over 2 million Vietnamese. The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour TV show was a staple of the late 1960s, which went against the grain of other talk shows of the time because of what they discussed. CBS cancelled their show because they were too progressive for television. John Lennon, one of the greatest musicians of all time, avidly supported the peace movements of the ‘60s and ‘70s up until his murder in 1980. U2 singer Bono created the non-profit organization (RED), which helps raises money to fight the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

These wildly popular icons of generations past and present used their voice to support causes and received nowhere near as much backlash from the people themselves as they do today. Arguments against current celebrities using their voice hold little weight in comparison to the historical fact that these famed artists mentioned above and many more not mentioned used their platform for their idea of the greater good and have been normalized by the generations that despise those who use their voice now.

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