Alan Alda accepted a Lifetime Achievement honor at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday, dispensing some timely wisdom for Hollywood just one day ahead of his 84th birthday. Alda, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease several years ago, emphasized the industry’s role in healing cultural divisions during his remarks.
It was a humble message, not insisting Hollywood’s unparalleled influence can single-handedly cure the world’s problems, but also focused on his craft’s specific ability to help us work through our differences. Here’s what the “M*A*S*H” star said:
When we get a chance to act, it’s our job, at least in part, to get inside a character’s head and to search for a way to see life from that person’s point of view—another person’s vision of the world—and to let an audience experience that. It may never have been more urgent to see the world through another person’s eyes than when a culture is divided so sharply. Actors can help, just a little, by just doing what we do.
It’s easy to lose sight of the entertainment industry’s potential to make positive cultural impacts, especially amid awards season when stars are unloading half-baked political opinions every other breath. But without being explicitly political, Alda’s sentiments were actually much more poignant.
And he’s very right. Well-crafted characters can open our eyes to new perspectives, turning distant anger into empathy. With so many of our bitter partisan divisions springing from cultural wells, Hollywood isn’t hurting for material to explore.
Indeed, the industry does a great job bringing characters to life who advance its own narrative. But we could use more people willing to take Amy Adams’s approach to playing Lynne Cheney. “For me,” Adams said earlier this month, “when approaching the politics of the film, I really just absorbed Lynne Cheney’s point of view. It was important to me to come at the character with honesty, whether I agree with her point of view or not.”
When you think about all the terrible traits reflexively (and inaccurately) projected by the left onto the boys of Covington Catholic last week–and largely because of their skin color and their hats—it seems as though we could use more artists willing to find some humanity in people on the opposite side of this painful political moment.