OPINION: Celebrities should use awards shows to speak out on important issues

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Of all the shows that make up awards season, the Golden Globes is usually one I feel safe skipping. In terms of award shows dedicated to film and television, I usually prefer the Academy Awards and the Emmys, and the Globes feel fluffy in comparison.

Suffice to say that I didn’t watch this year’s ceremony. However, come January 6, my Twitter feed was overrun with commentary on this year’s show and, more specifically, host Ricky Gervais’ opening monologue. 

Gervais, who was hosting the ceremony for the fifth time, began the night by poking fun at corruption in Hollywood, taking jabs at Amazon, Apple and Disney for utilizing sweatshop labor in China and referencing convicted sex offender Jeffery Epstein’s ties to the wealthy elite. 

Gervais ended his speech by imploring the night’s winners to not involve politics in their acceptance speeches, stating that none of them were qualified to weigh in on politics.

“So if you do win an award tonight, don’t use it as a platform to make a political speech,” Gervais said. “You’re in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg. So if you win, come up, accept your little award, thank your agent and your God and f**k off, ok?

On many of these issues, I’m inclined to agree with Gervais. It’s no secret that the glamorous facade of showbusiness covers some pretty horrendous crimes—racism  and the enabling of sexual predators like Harvey Weinstein, to name a few.

However, I still found myself rolling my eyes while watching Gervais’ speech. Gervais wasn’t trying to shine a light on ugly truths of the entertainment industry. He was trying to stir up attention and buzz by poking fun at hot button issues under the guise of truth telling.

“I can’t get inside his mind and explain his goal, but based on the material and his delivery, I felt it was clear he intended to make a big statement and attract buzz and controversy,” said Richard Roeper, the leading film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times in an email. “The routine was incredibly self-aware and self-congratulatory for doing just that.”

Simply pointing a finger and stating that a problem exists is not enough to provoke positive change. Gervais’ speech feels less like bravery and more like a lazy acknowledgement that issues of exploitative labor practices and a hush-hush culture regarding sex crimes merely exist. 

What’s more is that Gervais is not at the core of people impacted by shady dealings in showbusiness. He is an incredibly wealthy, popular entertainer who is comfortably meshed in with the same elite stars he spent the night mocking. Gervais has been made rich and famous by an industry ridden with corruption and deceit, and none of his jabs at the ceremony negate the fact that he has comfortably worked in this industry for decades.

“I’m a big fan of Ricky Gervais. I think he’s funny as hell,” Roeper said. “I also think it’s hypocritical for him to position himself as some kind of rogue outsider. The Golden Globes are on NBC/Universal, which is owned by Comcast. They knew exactly what they were getting when they brought back Gervais to host once again. It’s not like he was some rebel intruder storming the gates of mainstream Hollywood.”

Gervais’ routine fails in a major way in his discussion about celebrities sharing their political views. While some may assume that celebrities have only taken a political stance in the wake of President Donald Trump taking office, this is nothing new.  

“In the late 1960s and early 1970s, awards shows were, if anything, even more political than they are today,” Roeper said. “Marlon Brando refused his Best Actor Oscar for ‘The Godfather’ and sent a representative to talk about the oppression of Native Americans. But do these gestures truly make a difference? That’s debatable.”

 While I’m sure many of the celebrities who speak out on issues while accepting an award speak from the heart — whether it be a woman’s right to choose, advocacy for action towards climate change or gun control — I’m also sure that many of them do so for good PR. 

However, in an increasingly volatile world, the need for those with power and influence to use their platform for good is important. While it may be irritating to hear political gestures thrown around at award shows, it is no longer possible to pretend that the catastrophic events plaguing the world shouldn’t appear in spaces not directly relating to politics.

There is discussion to be had about the rich and powerful doing more to bring attention to or mend issues going on throughout the world. Gervais wasn’t necessarily wrong for calling that out, nor is he wrong for being fed up with corruption in the entertainment industry. However, his commentary feels lazy and safe when one considers his position as a member of the Hollywood elite reaping privileges from a corrupt industry, whether or not he takes part in said corruption.

Anyone can simply point their finger at an issue and acknowledge that something is wrong, but taking concrete steps to make change is ultimately more meaningful and helpful. In short, if people in power — whether it be Ricky Gervais or the larger celebrity population — want to make a difference, actions speak louder than words.