The 2017 Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday began, as expected, with a lecture from Mount Olympus instructing the audience how it should think. Thankfully, however, not all of the winners infused their speeches with politics. Many of them expressed a great deal of gratitude, and celebrated the matter they were invited to celebrate: entertainment.
Unfortunately, the first 15 minutes activated gag reflexes across the country as Ashton Kutcher greeted the audience by referencing the recent temporary halt on admitting refugees from seven countries, and obnoxiously proclaiming ownership of the nation with, “Good evening fellow SAG-AFTRA members and everyone at home. And everyone in airports that belong in my America.” Shortly thereafter viewers greeted Best Actress in a Comedy Series winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who injected, “This immigrant ban is a blemish and it is un-American.”
There are valid arguments against the president’s executive order, yet the phrase “immigration ban” is not one of them. It’s inaccurate and irresponsible, and employing it demonstrates a mere acquaintance with the issue, stemming mainly from hashtags.
For someone who loves the power of storytelling, the emotional catharsis of a sublime performance, and the well-executed vision of an inspired director, Hollywood awards shows can be a bit heartbreaking. However, since I have accepted that there is little hope of a cultural revival, I now take bathroom breaks when the pontificating begins, and relish the speeches that hearken back to the days when actors humbly and graciously accepted an award for doing a job that they love, with the knowledge of the true service they offer: entertainment.
Don’t Hate Hollywood Entirely
Because celebrities often usurp the stage to march for “social justice,” the whole of Hollywood is often branded as frivolous and out-of-touch. In some regards that’s true, but make no mistake, Hollywood does offer a valuable service.
Movies and television shows provide humor, escape, and the incomparable power to touch our hearts and move us. We watch films to enter worlds we could never imagine on our own. We binge on television series because the characters have so captured us that we ache to see what happens next.
We laugh with them, cry with them, and ponder what we would do in the same situation. A good story evokes an emotional purge we may not be able to find elsewhere. It transports us to a world of fantasy when we need to escape from the harshness of reality. Or it shows the harshness, but reminds us that we are not alone in our experience of it.
The acceptance speech of Best Supporting Actress Viola Davis captured the essence of why entertainers do what they do by first thanking a laundry list of people, then concluding by speaking about the power of playwright August Wilson’s story:
What August did so beautifully is he honored the average man, who happened to be a man of color. And sometimes we don’t have to shake the world, and move the world and create anything that is going to be in the history books. The fact that we breathe and live a life, and was a god to our children – just that means that we have a story, and it deserves to be told.
Wonderful actors bring great stories, our stories to life, and viewing them can be soul-cleansing and magical. Davis understands that.
‘They Didn’t Complain. They Focused on Solutions’
The winners of Best Ensemble Cast for the film “Hidden Figures” also recognized the purpose of entertainment. Actress Taraji P. Henson spoke for the cast by expressing gratitude for their award: “We stand here as proud actors thanking every member of this incredible guild for voting for us. For recognizing our hard work.”
She continued by diving deeper into the overall message of the film, “These women did not complain about the problems, their circumstances, ya know, the issues—we know what was going on in that era. They didn’t complain. They focused on solutions. Therefore, these brave women helped put men into space. We cannot forget the brave men that also worked with us. God rest his soul in peace, John Glenn. This story is of unity. This story is about what happens when we put our differences aside. And we come together as a human race, we win.”
In a night laden with the word “diversity,” and a culture obsessed with defining people based on the color of their skin, how wonderful it was to hear that the only relevant race is humanity. In a society that cultivates a war between the sexes, how encouraging it was to listen to a woman applaud the bravery of men, and praise the teamwork of both sexes to accomplish the impossible.
A lighter, yet still significant acceptance speech was delivered by Best Actress in a Drama Series Claire Foy, for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in “The Crown.” She exuded class, gratitude, and simple wisdom, stating, “This is a night for actors, so I want to talk about actors ‘cause I love them. And I’m very very honored to be one.” God save the queen! She continued by thanking the casting directors and her fellow cast, calling specific attention to her co-star, Matt Smith, for making her job a joy. Foy’s clarity on why she was on that stage was a breath of fresh air.
Lifetime Achievement to a Class Act
The Best Acceptance Speech Award goes to—drum roll, please—the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, Lilly Tomlin. The entire segment, beginning with her introduction by the spirited Dolly Parton, should be required watching for actors as instruction on how to behave on the stage.
Tomlin is known for her liberal beliefs and activism, but she knew on that night, on that stage, she was being celebrated for her acting, so she owned it. Predominantly a comedian, Tomlin delivered accordingly by providing humorous advice to young actors, “Don’t leave the house when you’re drunk. And if you’re already out there, well you must learn to tell when you’ve had too much to drink. Listen to your friends – when they stop talking to you, and start talking about you – saying things like ‘did she have a purse?’”
She also imparted the sage wisdom, “And don’t be anxious about missing an opportunity. Behind every failure is an opportunity somebody wishes they had missed. Meryl (Streep) is laughing at this, and there is absolutely no time she’s had a failure.” Some might beg to differ, arguing that Streep failed miserably with her Golden Globes sermon.
More comedy gold followed with, “Live your life so that, when you are being honored for your achievements, the people called upon to make laudatory remarks can be reasonably honest about their comments.” Tomlin concluded by saying, “Finally, thank those people on whose shoulders you stand.” Perfection.
Kudos to Tomlin, Foy, Davis, and the cast of “Hidden Figures” for their humility, gratitude, and awareness of what their job is, and what it is not.