A Timeline of Celebrity Political Demonstrations on TV
October 5, 2017
As the years pass by and our political climate continues to change, highly televised events, such as the Academy Awards and the Super Bowl, often remain the platform of choice for celebrities to voice their political concerns. From selfless to selfish and controversial to acclaimed, this list brings you a timeline of the most noteworthy political demonstrations made by celebrities on television.
At the peak of the 2017 awards season, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association awarded Meryl Streep with the Cecil B. DeMille Award for Lifetime Achievement for her four-decade-spanning career in film. Having already delivered three Academy Awards and eight Golden Globes acceptance speeches, Streep used this opportunity, and extensive air time, to call out President Donald Trump’s own performance of mocking a disabled reporter, in addition to his administration’s xenophobic travel ban. Trump responded on Twitter, per usual, calling Streep “one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood.” Streep was subsequently given her 20th Academy Award nomination.
Bringing together today’s biggest superstars – Beyoncé, Bruno Mars, Coldplay and Lady Gaga – with an estimated viewership of 167 million, the Super Bowl L was one of the more high-profile political demonstrations, featuring a collaborative performance by Beyoncé and Coldplay, that alluded to the Black Panther Party and legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States, respectively. The former was far more controversial, with many accusing Beyoncé’s usage of the Black Panther uniform as being anti-white and anti-police. Backlash ensued, with the hashtag #BoycottBeyonce trending virally on Twitter. Beyoncé responded by selling #BoycottBeyonce merchandise on her 2016 “Formation World Tour.”
2016 — Frank Ocean Boycotts Grammys
While singer Frank Ocean did not physically protest at an awards show, his comments in a 2016 New York Times article on the lack of equal representation resonated heavily with the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and millions of fans, alike. Ocean declined to submit his sophomore studio album “Blonde” for the 2017 Grammy Awards consideration, citing the institution as dated and not representing “people who come from where I come from, and hold down what I hold down.” Ocean called this move his “Colin Kaepernick moment.”
2016 — #OscarsSoWhite
Following the theme of boycotts, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences suffered tremendous backlash and a significant drop in ratings in light of its 2016 #OscarsSoWhite controversy. A slew of actors, including Spike Lee and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, brought the annual awards ceremony to national attention for nominating all white actors and actresses for a second year in a row. In fact, over the last eight decades, only 14 black actors have won, with the nominations barely exceeding that number. In response, the Academy voted to increase its female and minority membership, subsequently nominating actors of color in every acting category the following year, with four films led by nonwhite casts nominated for the coveted “Best Picture” prize.
2010 — Lady Gaga’s Meat Dress
Nominated for a record-breaking 13 nominations, Lady Gaga dominated every Video Music Awards headline in 2010 for wearing a dress made entirely of raw meat. Drawing criticism from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and confusion from viewers and media outlets, Gaga wore the meat dress in protest of the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. A longtime advocate for LGBT rights worldwide, the dress referenced an earlier speech of hers in which she stated, “Equality is the prime rib of America, but because I’m gay, I don’t get to enjoy the greatest cut of meat my country has to offer.” In addition to the raw meat, Lady Gaga walked the red carpet earlier in the evening alongside four discharged soldiers affected by DADT. The policy was repealed almost a year later.
In response to the devastating 2005 Hurricane Katrina, celebrities came together to hold a nationally broadcasted benefit concert. While it raised $50 million in donations, the program was notoriously remembered for Kanye West’s controversial statement, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” West deviated from the script to criticize the media’s negative portrayal of black families and the government’s inadequate relief efforts for the black and impoverished, calling it as slow as possible. Bush called West’s statement a disgusting moment in his presidency.
In the fall of 1992, singer-songwriter Sinead O’Connor appeared as the musical guest on “Saturday Night Live.” Choosing an a capella cover of Bob Marley’s “War” over her successful single “Nothing Compares 2 U,” O’Connor notoriously ripped a photo of Pope John Paul II to shreds, telling the camera to “fight the real enemy” in reference to sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. A huge backlash followed, with many boycotting O’Connor and her music. When asked if she would go back and change what she did, O’Connor responded with “hell no!”
In 1973, screen legend Marlon Brando received his sixth Oscar nomination and second win for the critically-acclaimed crime drama, “The Godfather.” However, when an absent Brando’s name was called at the ceremony, a woman garbed in traditional Apache dress refused the award for him. The woman, Sacheen Littlefeather, was a Native American civil rights activist who Brando chose to deliver a 15- page speech pertaining to the Wounded Knee incident of 1973 and the negative portrayal of Native Americans in Hollywood. Brando’s boycott and Littlefeather’s speech were the first of their kind, inspiring Jada Pinkett Smith to spearhead the 2016 #OscarsSoWhite boycott.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Oct. 5 print edition. Email Ryan Mikel at [email protected]