UPDATED with more details: At the Golden Globes this year, Meryl Streep openly criticized President Donald Trump for, among other things, making fun of a disabled reporter. The comments made during her speech while accepting the Cecil B DeMille Award started a firestorm across the country.
Asked by CAA agent Michael Kives today at the agency’s all-day Take Action Day about Middle America’s backlash against the Hollywood elite, and what is the best way for people like (client) Streep to effectively speak to Middle America without alienating people, former Sen. Barbara Boxer of California said: “I don’t think she talks down to anybody. … I don’t think it’s up to people to worry about what how one segment of the country thinks. What did Meryl Streep say that should be offensive to the middle of the country — that Donald Trump imitated a disabled person? Believe me, people in Middle America didn’t like that one bit.”
Boxer spoke during the event held at the agency’s Century City headquarters, engaging civic leaders past and present with others on how to get involved and effect change. Among those in the audience today were longtime Boxer and Democratic Party supporters including Laurie David and Pierce Brosnan, and the agency’s 224-seat theater was often SRO for the panelists that included U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and ALCU Chief Operating Officer Michele Moore.
“I believe in freedom of speech for everyone … whether they work in Hollywood or don’t work at all” Boxer said. “As far as I’m concerned, people who worked for different candidates that happen to work in entertainment, just keep doing it. Because people do listen and they do pay attention. Don’t do it just for the sake of doing it.” But, she said, if you have an issue that you feel passionate about, “Speak your heart. If you have a platform, use it. At least you’ll get some dialogue going. It’s not up to Meryl Streep to tailor a message for Middle America.” She said that job is up to politicians themselves to reach their constituency.
She said later in the talk that when you reach out on social media, you will get backlash, but, “It’s a way to reach people in ways that politicians can’t because our reputations are so low as a group. When people troll you and hate you … it’s only one reason: to shut you down. … Don’t let anyone shut you down. It’s not right. That’s why it’s important to keep on keepin’ on.”
Boxer just wrote a book about her time in politics, in which she took on such issues as stopping the Vietnam War, women’s rights and the environment when there were only six women in the U.S. Senate. She also worked with former MPAA head Jack Valenti against censorship in film and television.
As protesters across California were taking to the streets and planning candlelight vigils tonight asking, “Have you seen my congressperson?” — directed at U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to highlight how GOP members of Congress have refused to conduct local town hall meetings this week — McCarthy did attend CAA’s event. He talked about Trump, healthcare and immigration in front of what was basically a hostile audience in what was billed a bipartisan event.
He was hissed when he talked about California’s freshman Sen. Kamala Harris, who also is on today’s speaker roster, saying she was new to D.C. “and a minority and trying to make a name for herself. I get it.” Then he clarified himself, saying, “No, don’t take it that way.” That calmed the theater audience, and McCarthy added that he was trying to make the point that people come in try to get on issues they care about right away.
“If we don’t find a way [to compromise] … I’m very fearful that the election never ended,” he said. McCarthy noted that prior to the election, Trump asked him one question four times in a row. “He asked, ‘Do you think I could win California?’ I said no.”
Also on the lineup of speakers today was Orlando Von Eisnsiedel, director of the Oscar-nominated documentary short The White Helmets, who talked about the importance of stories providing insight to the plight of different cultures. “We thought stories about heroes and hope would resonate,” he said of his movie, which depicts the first responders in the Syrian civil war.
“We spent a lot of time thinking if war was to come to London, or to Los Angeles or New York, would we be able to do this, and the answer was no,” Von Eisnsiedel added. “To save on life was to save humanity … and that is from the Koran. There is so much misunderstanding about Muslims and about people from the Middle East and Syria, in particular. They were some of the most humble, compassionate people we have ever met.”
Billed as a bipartisan event, much of the discussion surrounded the discontent with the Trump administration.
In response to Trump’s immigration travel ban, Salam Al-Marayati, founder and executive director of Muslim Public Affairs Council, said that “George Takei collected 300,000 signatures saying. ‘I stand with Muslims.'” Takei was given a standing ovation from a roomful of observant Muslims, Al-Marayati said, despite Takei being gay and there with his husband. “In some ways, we have to thank Donald Trump for making that possible,” the filmmaker said. “We struggle and suffer because of what he’s doing, but maybe this is what we have to go through to force all of us to be more civilly engaged.”
Added Al-Maryati: “Prejudice can only be combated by all of us working together for the truth,” and “isolation can only be defied if we build institutional strength,” he said to applause.
ALCU’s Moore called Trump a “one-man constitutional crisis,” adding that POTUS is running the country as if it’s “America, Inc,” and “that is not how America was founded and he’s learning it” now. The ACLU has 300 attorneys, the federal government has 19,000, she noted. “It’s a David-vs.-Goliath scenario, but we have to do what we can.”
To the point that there is still much room for progress. During the panel discussion, which was titled “Protecting Vulnerable Communities,” actor Danny Woodburn stood up to criticize organizers for not having a representative of people with disabilities on the panel when the group makes up 20% of the U.S. population. “We can’t be left out of the discussion. Ever.”
Patrick Hipes contributed to this report.