In a ceremony that saw limited political commentary in its first two hours, save for a few jabs at Donald Trump by host Jimmy Fallon, it was Meryl Streep who used her Cecil B. DeMille Award acceptance speech to make a powerful statement on the President-elect, the freedom of the press and the responsibility of performers to inspire empathy.
Streep echoed the speech given earlier in the evening by fellow winner Hugh Laurie, remarking on how the people in the room she was addressing “belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now: Hollywood, foreigners and the press.” She named many of the other nominees and their birthplaces — Sarah Jessica Parker (Ohio), Ruth Negga (Addis Ababa), Natalie Portman (Jerusalem) — to make the point that Hollywood is “crawling with outsiders, and if we kick them all out you’ll have nothing to watch but football and MMA — which are not the arts.”
Streep said that of all the performances she saw in 2016, the one that stuck with her most — and not in a good way — was not by an actor, but by President-elect Donald Trump. Citing the moment when Trump mocked a disabled reporter (an accusation he later denied), she criticized Trump for using his public platform to humiliate others, and in doing so offering implicit permission to others to do the same. “Disrespect incites disrespect,” she declared. “Violence incites violence.”
She went on to appeal to those watching to support the Committee to Protect Journalists and to uphold the press in its duty to hold the powerful accountable. She then appealed to her fellow actors to respect the “privilege and responsibility of the act of empathy.”
Finally, Streep put an emotional punctuation mark on her remarks, quoting her late friend Carrie Fisher: “Take your broken heart, make it into art.”