As I watch the various entertainment awards ceremonies that populate the first few months of the year, I am always struck by the depth of intention artists find in work that can sometimes feel like pure entertainment. I’m reminded that in everything we as actors do, we must find the greater purpose. Make it about something bigger than ourselves because that’s where the possibility for greatness lies.
Last night, during the SAG awards, many of the actors rose to the occasion of our times, understanding that the work they do does not exist in a vaccuum, but is rather reflected through the prism of the culture, giving their award an importance beyond simple recognition of talent or hard work.
A lot of the speeches were generally great – hearkening to the political issues of the moment. Julia Louis-Dreyfus announced that she is the daughter of an immigrant, speaking out against the “un-American” immigirant ban; Bryan Cranston offered the President some advice from LBJ which went, “Don’t piss in the soup all of us got to eat;” the cast of Captain Fantastic rose to exclaim “Stick it to the man!”
But a few discussed the power of their roles and their films in more personal ways. Viola Davis acknowledged August Wilson for championing the stories of ordinary people, who happen to be people of color. She recognized that “sometimes we don’t have to shake the world and move the world and create anything that is going to be in the history book. The fact that we breathed and lived a life and was a god to our children, just that, means that we have a story and it deserves to be told.”
Mahershala Ali shared that “what I’ve learned from working on “Moonlight” is you see what happens when you persecute people. They fold into themselves.” He told a moving story about telling his mother, an ordained minister, about his conversion to Islam. It was a boldly political move wrapped in an extremely quiet and personal statement: ‘I am a Muslim.”
Most notably, the cast of Stranger Things received the award for Best Ensemble of a TV Drama – beating out front runner The Crown. Stranger Things – a summer hit for Netflix – was a wonderful story about a group of kids determined to find their missing friend and save him (and the town) from a monster created by a secret government agency. It was The Goonies + ET x Your Childhood. It was fantastically entertaining.
But David Harbour’s speech, which brought the audience to its feet, found greater depth as to why the show was important and resonated with millions of viewers.
We will repel bullies, shelter freaks and outcasts…We will get past lies. We will hunt monsters. And when we are at a loss amidst the hypocrisy and casual violence of certain individuals and institutions, we will…punch some people in the face.