Mahershala Ali picking up SAG Award for "Moonlight"/ photo courtesy of LA Times
Jane Fonda had a golden opportunity to lash out against the Vietnam War — and she passed.
“There’s a great deal to say, and I’m not going to say it tonight,” she said upon reaching the podium in 1972 to accept the best-actress Oscar for “Klute.”
Don’t expect this year’s winners to be as restrained.
The only thing more certain than an Emma Stone victory is that Sunday night’s broadcast (7:30 p.m., ABC) will be jam-packed with political speeches slamming President Trump's policies, particularly his push to restrict citizens of select Muslim nations from reaching American shores and his recent executive order lifting an Obama administration rule allowing transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity.
Earlier legs of the awards circuit have sent a clear signal that some winners are more likely to thank their immigrant parents than their agents.
At the Screen Actors Guild Awards Jan. 29, "Veep" star Julie Louis-Dreyfus, "Stranger Things" actor David K. Harbour and "Moonlight's" Mahershala Ali, an Oscar front-runner for best supporting actor, used their victories to make impassioned pleas for religious tolerance. Harbour even promised to punch opponents in the face, a threat that triggered one of several facial convulsions from co-star Winona Ryder.
The most memorable moment from the Golden Globes Jan. 8 wasn't the "Moonlight" cast celebrating its upset win but Meryl Streep's six-minute tirade that included a withering attack on Trump.
Two weeks ago at the Grammys, presenters and nominees were practically egged on to use the stage to push a political agenda.
"One of the things I've learned from working with artists for 40 years is that they are deep-thinking, vital individuals who have interests that cover a broad spectrum of subjects and passions," Grammys executive producer Ken Erhlich told Variety magazine before the show. "We should certainly allow for it on the broadcast."
It wasn't this way back in 1972 -- or the decades after that.
Vanessa Redgrave's career took a hit after she used her 1978 acceptance speech to rip the Jewish Anti-Defamation League. Oscars producer Gil Cates threatened to slap a lifetime ban on Richard Gere, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon after they used the worldwide pulpit in 1993 to speak on behalf of Haitian and Tibetan refugees. And the boos may still be ringing in Michael Moore's ears after he lambasted war efforts in 2003, four days after America had started dropping bombs on Iraq.
But this time around, stars seem unlikely to face much backlash if they rail against the president, at least not within the friendly confines of the Dolby Theater. The Hollywood community seems fairly united in opposition to policies that it sees as rooted in discrimination rather than in protecting Americans. (Vince Vaughn is among the few big names that may beg to differ.)
And then there's the fact that controversial moments make for good TV. Executives can no longer rely on viewers to tune in just to see what their favorite stars are wearing. The ratings for last year's Oscars broadcast hit an eight-year low and was the third-least-watched program in its long history. A few impassioned moments tailor-made to go viral -- even if they're circulated in anger -- can't hurt.
"Spontaneity helps all these shows," Oscars co-producer Michael De Luca told the Hollywood Reporter recently. "I don't like this attitude that just because someone's a celebrity, their right of speech is taken away."
With that in mind, De Luca would probably be delighted for a speech like Harbour gave at the SAG Awards: