Liberal Hollywood came out in force tonight at the Southern California ACLU’s 93rd annual Bill of Rights awards dinner honoring legendary producer Norman Lear, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke, BuzzFeed COO Frank Cooper III, and gold star parents Khizr and Ghazala Kahn. It was supposed to be a victory celebration for the nation’s first woman president, but for one star-studded night, became the frontline in Hollywood’s opposition to President-elect Donald Trump.
“I was and remain deeply worried that a candidate has been elected president who made campaign promises that are un-American,” said Hector Villagra, executive director of the local ACLU chapter, his words interrupted by loud cheers and applause. “So if the new president insists on carrying out his un-American campaign promises, the ACLU will fight. If he seeks to restrict a woman’s right to abortion and jail her and her doctor, the ACLU will fight! If he seeks to amass a deportation force to round up and summarily expel 11 million undocumented immigrants, the ACLU will fight! If he seeks ban the entry of Muslims, register Muslims living here, and surveill mosques, the ACLU will fight! If he seeks to reauthorize torture, restrict freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and roll back the gains made by LGBT people, the ACLU will fight!”
Lear describing Trump as “the middle finger of the American right hand,” said that the president-elect is the ultimate expression of the American people’s dissatisfaction with the nation’s leadership “across the board.” The way forward, he said, is not to hate our enemies but to “look into our own humanity and understand that we are all versions of one another.”
“I feel like I’ve been hit by a train,” said Jane Fonda, who presented Lear with the award. “I’ve been bumping into things. But I’m doing better because now I’m organizing, planning, strategizing.” Like Lear, she took a philosophical approach to it all. “Don’t demonize the people who voted for Trump,” she said. “Both parties betrayed them — I mean, even Beverly Hills went for Trump. I have a nonprofit. and some of my board members voted for Trump. What we need to do is listen. Try to understand why they voted against their best interests. we’ll never make a change until we understand one another.”
Gordon-Levitt, the star of Oliver Stone’s Snowden — and who donated his salary from the film to the ACLU — said that the dangers already inherent in NSA spying on millions of American citizens will only be intensified “under our new president-elect. Just think about how that mass surveillance system will be in the hands of a man who has said he doesn’t care what the Constitution says unless it works for him.”
In a surprise video appearance, Edward Snowden himself told the star that “What you have done has had such an impact on what people understand about what’s going on. You captured something, not just about a character, not just about me, but about our democracy.”
Speaking from exile in Russia, Snowden said that “this is a moment that I think we’re all fearing, but we should not despair. Out of this experience — where things get very dark and the road very dangerous — don’t be afraid of what comes next. Be ready. Let’s make a difference.”
“This is a surprise,” Gordon-Levitt said of the live link-up with Snowden. “I didn’t know this was coming.”
“Turns out I can keep a secret,” Snowden replied from Moscow, to howls of laughter from the audience.
“America is drifting into dangerous and uncharted waters,” Villagra said solemnly. “But I remind myself this is not the first time America has been carried by the currents of fear and hate. And I know that America is not directionless. It’s the Bill of Rights that promises justice. It’s the Bill of Rights that says individuals have rights no one can take away. It’s the Bill of Rights that points the way forward.” The ACLU, he said, “will fight for everyone…in these dark days.”
“We are at a moment now that’s darker and darker, scarier and scarier.” said Russell Simmons in his remarks introducing Cooper. He said he wrote a prayer for Trump today, even though the future president’s transition team “doesn’t believe in climate change. They just don’t give a f**k. The resistance has got to be really strong. I have friends who wake up crying. I encourage everybody to keep it in stride and to go forward despite what seems to be a terrible setback and a terrible threat.”
Cooper:, who was honored for championing diversify the workplace, said “I’ve always believed that business and social consciousness are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they should work together.” As for Trump, he said: “We’re all stunned by what’s happened over the last week, and we could all succumb to despair, But if there’s ever a time tight, this is the time to fight.”
Hardwicke, who was honored for her efforts to bring gender equality to Hollywood, praised the ACLU for convincing the U.S, Civil Rights Commission to investigate “the systemic failure to hire women directors at all levels of the film and television industry. We have to keep speaking out together about pay inequality and gender bias, either conscious or unconscious. It’s long past the time to tell more stories about women and diversity. We all need to support the ACLU of Southern California so they can continue doing this vital work. I am proud to accept this award as we move forward to bring real change in attitude, laws, and policies. I’ve experienced firsthand how inclusive representation in media can transform the world and especially young women. We need it now more than ever!”
Well known for speaking out against sexual violence, Hardwicke said that “Donald Trump’s predatory comments put a glaring spotlight on the problem.”
Kahn, who rose to fame at the Democratic National Convention when he offered to give Trump his copy of the Constitution., said that “My side won the majority of votes, but the Electoral College has given the presidency to this unsuitable, unstable and unfit man. Keep an eye on the team he’s assembling. It’s the same team of neocons who took us to Iraq (where his son was killed in action in 2004). I will not be surprised if they fabricate evidence and take our young men and women to war in some far corner of the world.”