Hollywood and Washington conservatives have never gotten along.
But the call to action in this town is hitting a new level during the early days of President Donald Trump’s administration. The entertainment industry’s general antipathy toward Trump was on full display Sunday at the Oscars, where references to the President’s controversial actions during his first month in office were center stage.
“I want to say thank you to President Trump,” host Jimmy Kimmel said in his opening monologue. “I mean, remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist?”
In a reference to Trump’s targeted travel ban and his administration’s stance on immigration, Kimmel joked that in Hollywood “we don’t discriminate against people based on where they’re from, we discriminate against them based on their age and weight.” He trolled Trump on Twitter and also offered fake mockery of Meryl Streep, who was targeted by Trump earlier this year after she attacked him in a fiery speech at the Golden Globes.
Beyond the jokes which were threaded throughout the evening, perhaps the strongest anti-Trump statement of the night was from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, who won the Oscar in the foreign language category for “The Salesman.” He announced days earlier that he would not travel to the Oscars as a form of protest against Trump’s travel ban – blocked by federal courts – affecting seven predominantly Muslim nations. In a statement read by his associate, Farhadi said his absence was out of respect for the people of his and the other six countries.
“Dividing the world into the ‘us’ and ‘our enemies’ categories creates fear, a deceitful justification for aggression and war,” Farhadi’s statement said. “These wars prevent democracy and human rights in countries which have themselves been victims of aggression.”
Of course, protests from Hollywood often play in the GOP’s hands. Republicans have long dismissed criticism from the entertainment industry as further proof that it’s out of touch, part of the “coastal elite” and an ATM for the political left. Trump, who is leveling similar charges against the news media and announced this weekend he won’t attend the black-tie White House Correspondents’ Dinner, is sure to do the same.
Remaining politically engaged
But there is a difference this year: the insistence of many entertainers industry players that they will remain politically engaged throughout Trump’s tenure – not just on the high-profile stages of awards ceremonies. The political jabs that dominated the Oscars were really a continuation of Hollywood’s rise to resistance over the past month.
There was a celebrity-studded lineup in Washington in January at the women’s march that included Scarlett Johansson and Madonna, who said she would not accept “the new age of tyranny.” Chelsea Handler and Charlize Theron led a sister march in Park City, Utah, near the Sundance Film Festival.
Then Trump’s targeted travel ban caused collective outrage across the entertainment industry. United Talent Agency, one of the world’s largest talent agencies, canceled its traditional Oscars party and instead made a $250,000 donation to the American Civil Liberties Union. They opted to hold a pre-awards-ceremony rally where speakers blasted the Trump agenda.
Shortly after the travel ban was announced, Ari Emanuel, a one-time agent to Trump, told WME-IMG talent agency employees that he and his co-CEO, Patrick Whitesell, were forming a federal political action committee. Though Emanuel has not spoken publicly about the focus of the PAC, one source familiar with the plans said many of the agency’s employees were profoundly shaken by the travel ban – which affected some of its clients.
Emanuel and Whitesell plan to seek input from employees about where to direct PAC funds.
Meanwhile, three days before the Oscars, the Creative Artists Agency held a “Take Action Day” for agents, clients, executives and their guests. The full-day event included panels on criminal justice, the environment and immigration. The immigration panel featured a DACA recipient, as well as activists who described the legal workshops they have been holding for undocumented immigrants, outlining their rights and how to respond if an ICE agent shows up at their door.
The day was capped with back-to-back appearances from California Sen. Kamala Harris and Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Earlier in the day, House Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, also appeared before CAA for a question and answer session.
Harris urged the film executives to get involved in volunteer work while also giving to immigrant aid groups and other legal non-profits that are working in communities.
“We have to be in this for the long haul,” she said, describing the resistance on the left as “a process.” “We can’t peak…and then throw up our hands.”
Connected to politics
Christy Haubeggar, a CAA agent who represents Salma Hayek and Eva Longoria, among others, noted in an interview that many in the entertainment community feel more profoundly connected to politics this year.
“The urgency of a lot of the issues facing the nation, we maybe don’t feel as intensely, because we are a little bit insulated and a little bit protected from some of those by virtue of the fact that we all live in a few zip codes,” said Haubeggar, who founded Latina Magazine and hosted CAA’s immigration panel on Thursday.
“The thing that has taken on a greater sense of urgency is the dynamic of an administration and election that revealed a cacophony of issues at one time,” Haubeggar said. “I think it’s more than a moment, I think it’s a movement. The fact that we are living a civics lesson in real time is its own gift of sorts. We are in a moment that feels acute and urgent.”
UTA kicked off Oscar weekend in Los Angeles with a Friday afternoon rally outside its headquarters featuring Jodie Foster and Michael J. Fox. Many of the speakers argued the industry had a powerful role to play in shaping perceptions and breaking stereotypes through storytelling.
“This is a singular time in history, and it’s time to show up,” Foster said in her speech. “It makes me so proud to see so many people engaging in support for civil rights and our traditions of fairness, freedom and empathy.”
Fox, who has been active for many years in Washington on issues such as stem cell research, urged the crowd to unite and never surrender “our shared values of compassion, and human dignity, and freedom of expression, religion and the arts.”
Jeremy Zimmer, the CEO of UTA, called on rally participants to raise their “voices loud and clear.”
“The politics of fear and division do not reflect who we are as a nation,” he said.
CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to more accurately reflect Haubeggar’s title and clientele.