SAG-Awards-Meryl-Streep
Picture: © Watchara Phomicinda Zuma Press/PA Images

This year’s Screen Actors Guild Awards got political, and it’s not the first time

Meryl Streep, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Kanye West, Azealia Banks… Celebs have been piping up about the state of the world more than usual since Trump’s win. Should they really be using their platform to talk politics?

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards – where rather than letting any pesky panels or polls get in the way, actors tell other actors who they liked best – made more headlines than usual this year.

That’s partly down to the huge success of Hidden Figures, a biopic about three African-American women’s involvement in a NASA space mission in the 1980s. But it’s also down to the fact that once again, celebs took the opportunity on stage to share their views on Trump’s immigration ban.

Here's what some of them had to say...

"I am the daughter of an immigrant"
"Don't piss in the soup..."

So who asked them anyway?

It’s not the first time celebrities have used their platform to send a political message. Marlon Brando went all out in 1973, sending Sacheen Littlefeather, a Native American woman, to accept an Oscar for The Godfather on his behalf.

Protesters still follow Jane Fonda wherever she goes for her visit to – and photos with – prisoners of war in Vietnam in 1972. And of course, Azealia Banks’ ‘tell-it-like-it-is’ endorsement of Donald Trump in this election cycle:  "I only trust this country to be what it is: full of shit. takes shit to know shit so we may as well put a piece of shit in the White House."

To some – Piers Morgan, for one – celebs are starting to get a bit cheeky with their access to a mic. “It’s an award ceremony, not a chance for you to be Martin Luther King,” he said in a recent television interview.

Being a celebrity is about as public a job as it gets – and the more people know you, the more you get paid. But the service we’re buying from celebrities when we pay our movie tickets and invest in their art is entertainment, not political consulting. Celebrities talking about politics is like your hairdresser giving you career tips or your estate agent giving you relationship advice – sure, they’ve got opinions about it, but they’re not why you hired them, right?

SAG-celebrities-Anna-Wintour
Wait, so who asked you?

Then again, when celebrities talk, people seem to listen...

Oprah’s endorsement of Barack Obama in 2007 won him a million extra votes. Beyonce, Christina Aguilera, Dr. Dre, and P-Diddy’s involvement in the 2008 Get-Out-The-Vote campaign is said to have bumped up voter registration rates among 18-24 year olds by a considerable margin.

We might not have hired them to give us political advice, but we tend to trust people we identify with – and if there’s one thing everyone was talking about in 2016, it was the fact that people don’t trust political and economic experts anymore. So sure, maybe we didn’t hire them for their political expertise: but the people we did hire don’t seem to be doing so good either.

Plus: it’s not like we give celebrities much privacy in the rest of their off-screen lives. Where they live, what they wear, what they eat, who they’re dating, what gym they go to is seen as information that’s up for grabs for countless magazines, shows, and YouTube personalities to create a business model out of.

And from George Clooney’s Nespresso campaign, to Shell’s ‘Make The Future’ video enlisting everyone from Jennifer Hudson to Pixie Lott it seems like celebrities promoting business is part of the package of fame too. So why not politics?

This might be the weirdest thing ever...

The thing that sets this particular wave of political expression apart is the elephant in the room about the extent to which A-listers represent exactly what’s causing huge divides in society right now. In her acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, Meryl Streep referred to everyone in the room as “the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it. Hollywood, foreigners, and the press.”

But to a lot of people, Hollywood doesn’t exactly represent the vilified or the oppressed: it represents the elite, working on six, seven, eight figure salaries, living in mansions in LA, and jetsetting across the globe. In a poll of 900 Trump supporters, most felt celebrity endorsements only strengthened their political views against ‘the establishment’.

It comes down to whether people living completely different economic experiences can really get to grips with each other’s perspective on the world around them – and whether we want to hear it.

Mark Wahlberg, who grew up in a family of nine and had a few run ins with the law and drug abuse before his Hollywood days, isn’t convinced: "They might buy your CD or watch your movie, but you don’t put food on their table. You don’t pay their bills. A lot of Hollywood is living in a bubble. They’re pretty much out of touch with the common person, the everyday guy out there."

Victoria Waldersee is commissioning editor at Economy

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Wish I knew what Winona was thinking, tbh

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