Meryl Streep made a call for public decency at the Golden Globes this year while accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award for her acting, referencing Donald Trump’s apparent mockery of a disabled reporter while on his campaign trail. She also called for the media to step up and be vigilant about unethical behavior from our public leaders. Her speech has turned into somewhat of a controversy, with some saying celebrities should stay out of politics and others saying that Streep is an iconic goddess that can do what she wants (or something like that).
While I think celebrities should be encouraged to speak more about world-affecting issues they care about and less about hair products and diet pills, and I will defend this position any time I’m asked to, I don’t see Streep’s speech as a purely political one. The campaign season is over. There is nothing to be won here except common decency. She spoke not of left politics versus right politics, but of bullying versus empathy, of using your power for good versus using it for bad. As President Obama said during his farewell speech on Tuesday, “That, after all, is why we serve. Not to score points or take credit, but to make people’s lives better.” Streep spoke about bullies, and a specific bully with arguably the highest position of power an American can have, not in an effort to turn everyone into a Democrat, but to remind the unempowered that they have supporters and to remind the empowered to have empathy.
In terms of quality, her speech’s commitment to the idea of form mirroring content makes it hard to ridicule the words. The fact that she chose to give a speech that could’ve been solely about her own acting skills and gave her time instead to people that don’t have a Hollywood stage to speak on shows true genuineness on her part about the very topic she tackled.
She supports a number of charities, including foundations for female empowerment such as Chime for Change, Women in the World and Girl Up. Streep is a woman who spends her life using her money and power to speak out whether it is in charities or in movies, so why should she be silent about that aspect of her life while accepting an award for her publicly visible and applauded work? I was reminded of Leonardo DiCaprio’s speech at the 2016 Oscars when he brought focus to the importance of acting on climate change. It’s hard to say that DiCaprio should’ve stayed quiet about the controversial topic when he has been working with his namesake foundation since 2007 to actively fight against climate change and environmental damage. Celebrities are American citizens too, with passions and opinions like citizens have (or should have). I say good on the ones who give a voice to disenfranchised people and causes they care about, thus encouraging viewers and fans to do the same in their lives.