Robert De Niro ripped into the Trump administration’s plans to chop funding to the arts tonight at a gala benefit in his honor at Lincoln Center on Monday night. In his acceptance speech, De Niro called for health care and referenced Donald Trump’s comments about Meryl Streep following her own honor at the Golden Globes earlier this year, but he reserved the bulk of his ire for lamenting to strip funding to government support to agencies supporting the arts.
“We make movies to entertain audiences. Audiences vote by seeing them; critics vote by writing about them; and then posterity takes its time to decide if they’re art — or not,” De Niro said while accepting the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s 44th annual Chaplin Award. “I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because of our government’s hostility towards art. The budget proposal, among its other draconian cuts to life-saving and life-enhancing programs, eliminates the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. For their own divisive political purposes, the administration suggests that the money for these all-inclusive programs goes to rich liberal elites. This is what they now call an ‘alternative fact,’ but I call it bullshit.”
The audience roared with approval for De Niro, who was very animated in his delivery from the stage at — ironically — the David Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. Streep and Ben Stiller made oblique references to Trump, but it was De Niro who launched the broadsides.
“By being here tonight, you are supporting arts for everyone,” he said onstage. “You’re supporting the slapstick of Charlie Chaplin, the great body of work of Marty Scorsese and Barry Levinson, the dumb-ass comedies of Robert De Niro, the ‘overrated performances of Meryl Streep’ and your own taste and needs.”
Michael Douglas came out during the evening to present a video on Film Lives Everywhere, a new initiative in support of the global film community featuring home videos by Ava DuVernay, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Olivier Assayas, Agnès Varda, Guy Maddin and more.
Scorsese, who worked with De Niro on eight films including Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and the upcoming The Irishman, presented the career honor to De Niro. Scorsese received the 25th annual Chaplin Award in the late ‘90s.
Another huge ovation came when De Niro noted that Chaplin was an immigrant and that he might not have been admitted to the U.S. had the current administration been in power. He also took a swipe at the Republican Party’s narrative demonizing liberals in the movie industry.
“I don’t make movies for ‘rich liberal elites,’” he said. “I’ve got my restaurants for that. I – and all of us speaking here tonight — make them for you.”
The evening included tributes from presenters Streep, Stiller, Levindon, Whoopi Goldberg, Sean Penn and Harvey Keitel. In addition to the gala, the Film Society of Lincoln Center presented a weeklong tribute featuring a dozen of De Niro’s most notable films in April.
In closing, De Niro paid tribute to Hollywood as well as his hometown. “Finally, I love Hollywood. But what makes this award so special is that it’s in New York, with a number of my fellow New Yorkers. For the movies, Hollywood is a place, an industry and a state of mind, but New York — New York is home.
The annual Chaplin gala began in 1972, honoring Charlie Chaplin, who returned to the U.S. from exile to accept the commendation. The award then was renamed for Chaplin and has been presented to many of the film industry’s most notable talents, including Streep, Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Laurence Olivier, Federico Fellini, Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis, James Stewart, Robert Altman, Diane Keaton, Tom Hanks, Sidney Poitier, Barbra Streisand, Robert Redford, and, last year, Morgan Freeman.