December’s annual Kennedy Center Honors, the first since the election of Donald Trump, will include prominent cultural figures who have been outspoken critics of the President and particularly his anti-immigration and anti-arts agendas, notably producer and writer Norman Lear.
The five honorees chosen for the 40th Honors are singer and songwriter Gloria Estefan, dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade, hip-hop pioneer LL COOL J and musician and record producer Lionel Richie, in addition to Lear.
The December 3 Honors Gala, hosted by the President and First Lady, might prove to be an awkward Beltline soiree. Lear, whose remake of his long-running sitcom One Day At A Time has found fresh life on Netflix as the story of a Latinx family, may skip the party.
“We’ll have to see,” Lear told Deadline in an exclusive interview. “If it were held today, I wouldn’t go. I’m not sure I want to visit a White House that has given such a cold shoulder to culture and the arts.”
“As a young Jewish boy in the 1920s, as an airman flying over Berlin in World War II, as a young father in Los Angeles trying to make ends meet, as a successful writer/producer touring a copy of the Declaration of Independence around the country – in the many lifetimes I’ve lived – I could not have imagined this day,” Lear added.
“If it were held today, I wouldn’t go. I’m not sure I want to visit a White House that has given such a cold shoulder to culture and the arts.” – Norman Lear
In addition to the seminal sitcoms All In The Family, Maude and The Jeffersons, Lear founded People For The American Way, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of Constitutional rights in general and the First Amendment in particular. “And I am honored that it comes at an especially appropriate time. As a people, we – our values, our institutions – are being tested. It is not, of course, the first time; nor will it be the last. But as President Kennedy once said, on behalf of this Center, ‘I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contributions to the human spirit.’ That is our charge. And that is why I am so grateful to the Kennedy Center for this honor. It is more important now than ever that we stand up for artists, for artistic expression, and for the valiant fight that artists fight to reveal the wonder and oneness of the human spirit.”
By contrast, Estefan, who is Cuban-American, plans to use the opportunity to speak with the Trumps about issues close to her heart and which are powerfully articulated in On Your Feet!, the Broadway musical about her life. The show’s biggest applause line comes when the actor playing Gloria’s husband, producer Emilio Estefan, tells a bigoted radio executive that his is the new face of America.
“Mr. President, as a proud immigrant of this country, it’s very important for me that you see the wonderful contributions we have made,” Gloria Estefan said she planned to say at the reception, according to The New York Times, one of several news outlets given advance notice of the honorees. “We have seen a lot of anti-immigrant backlash this year, so for us, it may hold even more beauty than for someone who has lived here all their lives. To get this kind of award is so American.”
Richie, who wrote “We Are The World,” is a Trump supporter and friend of over a decade.
“In the world of entertainment, I’ve got to tell you, Mr. Trump has been front and center,” he told the NYT. “That’s just what he does. You can’t miss him! Listen, when you say, do you want to sit next to the President or not — are you kidding me? He’s the president!”
Kennedy Center Honors medallions will be presented December 2, the night before the Gala, at a State Department dinner hosted by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The December 3 event will be recorded for broadcast on the CBS Network for the 40th consecutive year as a two-hour primetime special on December 26 at 9 PM ET. White Cherry Entertainment is executive producing.