Should Award Winners Bring Politics Into Acceptance Speeches? It All Depends on Who You Ask

jane fonda
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Jane Fonda thanks the audience after accepting an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress, at the 44th annual Academy Awards, at the Music Center. She won the golden statue for her role as a call girl in Klute.

According to a new survey, young people think you should express yourself -- and what better time than when you have millions of people hanging on your every word.

On April 10, 1972, as the Vietnam War raged and a polarizing president, Richard Nixon, was running for re-election, famed anti-war activist Jane Fonda won her first Academy Award for her performance in Klute.

Everyone wondered how she’d handle the moment. Would she use the platform to express her views on the war and the president who had kept it going for more than three years at that point?

She took to the podium at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles and said simply, “Thank you. Thank you very much, members of the Academy. And thank all of you who applauded. There's a great deal to say and I'm not going to say it tonight. I would just like to really thank you very much.”

Many praised her restraint, on the grounds that she was being honored for her performance, not her politics. The prevailing view: That wasn’t the time or the place.

Fast-forward nearly 45 years, to Jan. 8, 2017. America had just elected a new president, Donald Trump, who was just 12 days away from taking office. Yet, at the Golden Globe Awards, while accepting the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award, Meryl Streep laced into the soon-to-be-president with withering remarks.

Streep never invoked Trump’s name at the awards ceremony, held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. She didn’t have to. Everyone knew who she meant when she blasted him for mocking a disabled New York Times reporter. (For the record, Trump denies he was mocking the reporter’s disability.)

“This instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”

The different approaches taken by Fonda and Streep reflect changes in public attitudes over the years about using acceptance speeches to make political or social points.

Earlier this month, Nielsen Music/MRC Data and Whitman Insight Strategies partnered with DISQO to survey 1,103 likely voters across the U.S. The survey, conducted between Oct. 8 and 13, found that 45% of likely voters approve of using acceptance speeches for making political or social statements -- but that the numbers varied greatly by age group, political affiliation and racial/ethnic group.

As you can see in the bar graph below, 60% of Gen Z (age 18-23) approve, as do 61% of millennials (24-39). Among Gen X (40-55), the number falls to 50%. Among baby boomers (56-74), it falls to 32%. Among the so-called silent generation or older (75+), support for using acceptance speeches to make a political point falls even further, to 23%. In their era, it just wasn’t done. It was considered bad form. Times change.

There’s also a marked difference in attitude among the two major political parties: 62% of Democrats are fine with it, while only 29% of Republicans approve. The split among various racial or ethnic groups is also pronounced: 72% of Black/African-American respondents say it’s fair game. That number falls to 65% of Hispanic/Latino, 57% of Asian-Americans and just 37% of white, non-Hispanic respondents.

71% of LGBTQ+ respondents say “go for it.” (There was no comparable stat for heterosexuals.)

Courtesy Photo

It’s interesting that there is markedly greater support among both Democrats and Republicans for artists speaking out in general terms than there is for speaking out specifically at awards shows. Some people in both parties who are generally in favor of artists speaking out continue to see awards shows as a special place where it’s not appropriate.

Here’s the data: Overall, 93% of Democrats surveyed say entertainers should feel free to use their platforms to speak out on social and political issues, but, as shown above, just 62% say an awards show is the place to do it.

Overall, 54% of Republicans say performers should feel entitled to speak out, but, as shown above, only 29% say it’s fine to do it at awards shows.

Note The study was conducted among those who are registered voters and are thus likely to vote in the Nov. 3 election.

It’s possible that the politically charged, contentious times we’re living in have caused the numbers to spike. If things ever settle down, the numbers might drop off. Or maybe they won’t. Maybe we’re witnessing a generational shift where young people today think you should express yourself, and what better time than when you have millions of people hanging on your every word.

To learn more about the study, email

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