At the Golden Globes, the Cecil B. DeMille Award has too often been an opportunity for larger-than-life personalities to make surprisingly small points.
But Meryl Streep was clearly ready for her close-up.
During Sunday night’s show, Streep jolted both the celebrities inside the Beverly Hilton and the millions of viewers at home by eschewing any reflection on her own career or calling in favor of taking a political broadside at Donald Trump, though she managed to never mention the president-elect by name.
“Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners,” the 30-time Globe nominee said as she accepted the lifetime achievement prize, “and if you kick us all out, you’ll have nothing to watch except for football and mixed martial arts, which are not arts.”
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The comments caught viewers’ attention with their forthrightness. Streep, however, was just getting started. As the boozy room grew hushed, the star noted that Hollywood is among the most vilified segments of American society. “But who are we, and what is Hollywood anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places," she said, running through the diverse backgrounds of a host of acting nominees, many from other countries.
"Where are their birth certificates?" she asked sarcastically, alluding to Trump’s long-running birther comments about President Obama.
Streep then offered a critical sleight-of-hand, seeming to laud a “performance” she liked — before making clear she was referring to Trump’s imitation of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, who is disabled.
“There was nothing good about it, but it did its job," she said of the turn. “It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can’t get it out my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was in real life.”
When Streep finished, “Mr. Robot” star Rami Malek offered a sentiment to his table that was later echoed on Twitter. “In a weird way, she’s our president,” he said.
Streep’s speech was a powerful, pointed contrast to Denzel Washington’s awkward attempt last year to wing his Cecil B. DeMille acceptance speech without notes and Jodie Foster’s remarks in 2013 — was she coming out, was she retiring, no one seemed to know.
Streep’s were not the only political statements of the evening.
“Black-ish” star Tracee Ellis Ross, who won early in the evening for actress in a TV comedy/musical, noted the importance of stories about people of color, while “Fences” standout Viola Davis dedicated her supporting actress-film award to those who didn’t have a voice.
Though the Globes are better known for their good-times merriment (Cuba Gooding Jr., anyone?), their looser format often gives winners license to speak directly.
“The Night Manager” actor Hugh Laurie, who won the supporting actor-TV prize, took advantage of the moment with his own comments aimed at Trump.
“I’ll be able to say I won this at the last-ever Golden Globes,” the British actor said. “I don’t mean to be gloomy, it’s just that it has the words ‘Hollywood,’ ‘Foreign’ and ‘Press’ in the title.” He added: “I also think to some Republicans even the word ‘association’ is slightly sketchy.”
The intersection of award season with the White House transition — Oscar nominations will be announced four days after the inauguration — has created many opportunities for more politically minded stars and filmmakers to speak out. At the National Board of Review ceremony last week, “Manchester by the Sea” writer-director Kenneth Lonergan noted that “these are very troubled times … but there are people in this room whose quality of work [gives us] the capacity to overcome obstacles.”
Still, it was Streep who has the most pointed award speech of the young awards season. The actress concluded her speech Sunday by shouting out to journalists. “We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call them on the carpet for every outrage,” she said. “We're going to need them going forward. And they’re going to need us to safeguard the truth.”
Los Angeles Times staff writer Jessica Roy contributed to this report