Meryl Streep accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Award — the Golden Globes version of the lifetime achievement award — last night, then proved why she deserved it. She spoke truth to power, calmly and methodically eviscerating Donald J. Trump.
Streep made her acceptance speech without ever mentioning the president-elect’s name, because she is as sly and clever as her subtle smile.
Thank you, Hollywood foreign press. Just to pick up on what Hugh Laurie said. You and all of us in this room, really, belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it. Hollywood, foreigners and the press. But who are we? And, you know, what is Hollywood anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places.
I was born and raised and created in the public schools of New Jersey. Viola [Davis] was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina, and grew up in Central Falls, Rhode Island. Sarah Paulson was raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids from Ohio. Amy Adams was born in Italy. Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. Where are their birth certificates? And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Ethiopia, raised in Ireland, I do believe. And she’s here nominated for playing a small town girl from Virginia. Ryan Gosling, like all the nicest people, is Canadian. And Dev Patel was born in Kenya, raised in London, is here for playing an Indian raised in Tasmania.
Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. If you kick ’em all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts. They gave me three seconds to say this. An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like. And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that, breathtaking, passionate work.
Meryl Streep humanized Hollywood’s privileged actors and actresses, who often deserve to be taken down a notch by Ricky Gervais. Streep made them regular folks.
There was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good. There was nothing good about it. But it was effective, and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. 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. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. I still can’t get it out of my head, because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life.
And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.
Meryl Streep showed empathy and grace, and the audience listened — which they failed to do at the Academy Awards in 2003, when the prescient Michael Moore spoke truth to power. Streep has a lighter touch.
This brings me to the press. We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call them on the carpet for every outrage. That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedoms in our constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the committee to protect journalists. Because we’re going to need them going forward. And they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.
One more thing. Once when I was standing around on the set one day whining about something, we were going to work through supper, or the long hours or whatever, Tommy Lee Jones said to me, isn’t it such a privilege, Meryl, just to be an actor. Yeah, it is. And we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy. We should all be very proud of the work Hollywood honors here tonight.
As my friend, the dear departed Princess Leia, said to me once, take your broken heart, make it into art. Thank you.
Meryl Streep said all this 12 days before the president-elect’s inauguration as the 45th president of the United States. Streep hasn’t lost her timing.
Streep understands gravitas, because one really good fringe benefit of moving from Bernardsville, N.J, to the Yale School of Drama to the New York theater to Hollywood and amassing 79 credits on IMDb, including 19 Academy Awards and three wins and becoming the best actress (or actor) of your generation is so that when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association honors you with a lifetime achievement award, maybe a “bunch of people from other places” gathered in a Beverly Hills ballroom and millions of television viewers will finally shut up and listen to a 67-year-old woman speak truth to power.
The speech of a lifetime.