The 23rd Screen Actors Guild Awards turned into an impromptu political rally on Sunday Jan. 29 as dozens of stars took the opportunity to express their viewpoints during this highly publicized event.
As the night began, celebrities were already turning heads on the red carpet—and not just for their daring fashion choices. In protest of President Trump’s recent immigration ban, “The Big Bang Theory” star Simon Helberg and his wife Jocelyn Towne proudly displayed “Refugees Welcome” and “Let Them In” signs over their designer garb.
As the awards were doled out, it seemed that every winner had something to say regarding the current political atmosphere—Trump’s recent travel ban in particular. Presenter for outstanding performance by a female actor in a comedy series—the very first award of the night—Ashton Kutcher had the responsibility of welcoming guests to the awards ceremony. While doing so, Kutcher—whose wife actress Mila Kunis is an immigrant herself—also welcomed “everyone in airports that belong in my America,” assuring them, “You are a part of the fabric of who we are. And we love you; and we welcome you.”
Taking cue from both Helberg and Kutcher, the night’s first winner, Julia Louis-Dreyfus—who won for her role in the political comedy “Veep”—did not hesitate to criticize the president’s latest order, calling the ban “un-American.”
Winners such as Emma Stone—for outstanding performance by a female actor in a leading role—Sarah Paulson—for outstanding performance by a female actor in a television movie or miniseries—and Lily Tomlin—for the Lifetime Achievement Award—made special use of their acceptance speeches to stand up for those effected by the ban and to speak out against President Trump’s recent decisions.
But two of the most powerful speeches of the night came from the cast of “Stranger Things”—who won for their collective outstanding performance by an ensemble in a drama series—and Mahershala Ali—who won the award for outstanding performance by a male actor in a supporting role for his work in Moonlight.
David Harbour, who plays Police Chief Jim Hopper in “Stranger Things,” accepted the award for the cast—many of whom are 12-15-year-old children—and made the acceptance speech. With an amazing amount of passion—almost deserving of an award itself—Harbour struck a chord with every guest in the room. Harbour was met with a powerful reaction from his peers as he cried out, “We will shelter freaks and outcasts, those who have no homes. We will get past the lies, we will hunt monsters.”
Not only did Harbour’s speech speak of the travel ban, but it also touched upon some major messages in “Stranger Things” itself, continuing, “And when we are at a loss amidst the hypocrisy and the casual violence of certain individuals and institutions we will, as per Chief Jim Hopper, punch some people in the face when they seek to destroy the weak and the disenfranchised and the marginalized.”
As for Ali, the issue hits extremely close to home. Telling the personal story of how his mother, an ordained minister, disapproved of his conversion to Islam 17 years ago, Ali emphasized the need to treat everyone as what we are: human.
“We put things to the side, and I’m able to see her, she’s able to see me—we love each other, the love has grown, and that stuff is minutiae. It’s not that important,” Ali said.
He also noted how his role in Moonlight—where he played a gay, impoverished black boy growing up in Miami—taught him about the consequences of discrimination and racism.
“[In the movie] we see what happens when you persecute people … they fold into themselves,” Ali said.
The stars in the room had no qualms about agreeing with and supporting their fellow artists. They’ll have no problem taking Harbour’s advice to “go deeper and through our art battle against fear,” but for those unable to act through art, perhaps the words of another SAG winner would be more helpful. Taraji P. Henson, who accepted the cast of Hidden Figures’ award for outstanding performance by a cast in a theatrical motion picture, gave this reminder: “Love wins. Every time.”