The Screen Actors Guild Awards don't open with an over-produced video or a big dance number. Every year, the ceremony that enables actors to honor actors begins with nominees giving short testimonials about their work. Some are funny, some are poignant, and some are messages of strength and defiance. At the 2017 SAG Awards, Scandal and Confirmation star Kerry Washington spoke out against the belief that actors should withhold their opinions about politics. Here's what Kerry Washington had to say about how art and activism go together:
"A lot of people are saying right now that actors shouldn't express their opinions when it comes to politics, but the truth is actors are activists no matter what, because we embody the worth and humanity of all people. This union helps me to do that. I'm Kerry Washington and I am an actor."
Actors who speak out about their beliefs on law and policy are often criticized for it. A recent and already infamous case of a concentrated attempt to silence a voice came about after Meryl Streep gave her passionate and politically charged speech at the Golden Globe Awards this year. Her condemnation of Donald Trump prompted the president himself to call her "overrated" and a number of his supporters to attack her for speaking her mind.
If you look at the replies to any remotely political tweet made by a celebrity, you'll see suggestions (some polite, most not), that that celebrity stay in their lane. Washington's speech challenges the assertion that artists — especially the kind who win awards and open big at the box office — have no right to make statements about positions and politicians. But actors are also citizens. They pay taxes, and they vote. And to Washington's point, they dedicate their careers to illuminating the human experience.
The first several days of Donald Trump's presidency have been marked by executive orders and appointments that frighten and anger many Americans. The SAG Awards offered actors an immediate platform to respond to those changes. Kerry Washington's opening monologue set the stage for a night of rousing, civic-minded speeches and touching personal stories.