Actor Robert De Niro really does make it hard for a politically engaged conservative who has enjoyed his movies to like him anymore. In the era of Trump, we’ve all come to expect political rants from De Niro as he accepts industry awards or gives interviews for television and in print. He did it again during the 26th Annual Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards Sunday.
De Niro was honored with the SAG Life Achievement Award. Typically, the honoree fakes enough humility to convince the audience that he or she is just a regular person lucky enough to be able to make a living doing what he or she loves to do. They talk about the craft of acting, the struggles to make it and usually end with an encouraging word or two to inspire the younger people coming after them. That all goes out the window when politics take over. De Niro is so filled with hatred for President Trump that he is no longer capable of speaking without dragging his resistance into the moment.
The twist during Sunday night’s performance from De Niro was that he didn’t have the cojones to actually say Trump’s name, and he turned his rant into an expression of support for unions in general. The union angle was obviously due to the origin of the awards themselves. The Screen Actors Guild is the union that actors and others in the entertainment industry join in order to work. Their membership entitles them to benefits that other unions provide, like health insurance. So, in order to trash Trump, he lumped in all of us who less than enthusiastically support unions. De Niro even tossed in what a “dire situation” he thinks we are in now. He thanked SAG-AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) while noting “hostility towards unions.”
I thank SAG-AFTRA for tirelessly fighting on our behalf for workplace and economic gains, and respect. And that especially bears — [Applause] And that especially bears remembering these days when there’s so much hostility towards unions. [Applause] Political leaders who support unions are more likely to support affordable health care, equitable taxes, humane immigration regulations, a safe environment, a diverse citizenry, reproductive rights, sensible gun control, and fair wages and benefits. [Applause]
We owe them our support. And we owe them our vote. I can imagine some of you saying, all right, okay, stay out of politics. That’s all right. But we’re — we’re in such a dire situation, so deeply concerning to me and to so many others, I have to say something. And I thought I said it pretty well to Variety the other day, so I’m going to quote myself. [Laughter] There’s right and there’s wrong, and there’s common sense, and there’s abuse of power, and as a citizen I have as much right as anybody, an actor, an athlete, a musician, or anybody else, to voice my opinion. And if I have a bigger voice because of my situation, I’m going to use it whenever I see a blatant abuse of power. And that’s all I’m going to say about that tonight.
You’ll note that during that screed, he acknowledges that people are tired of hearing his political opinions, especially during awards shows. He doesn’t care, though, and even goes on to quote himself. His narcissism knows no boundaries. De Niro presents himself as one who bravely, boldly speaks truth to power but he doesn’t carry through with that during this rant because he fails to call out President Trump by name, or conservatives in general, for that matter.
It would be nice if when De Niro says, “And that’s all I’m going to say about that”, he means it. We are in the midst of awards season for the entertainment industry, though, so he’ll have other opportunities to insult conservatives and Trump supporters as he trolls the president. There is no way an ego that size will remain silent in the months ahead, especially as the general election draws closer.
The movie industry finds itself coping with lagging ticket sales and a younger generation that prefers to stay home and stream movies instead of going out to movie theatres. It seems like a bad business decision to insult half of a potential viewing audience, doesn’t it?
Streaming and other leisure-time enticements appeared to take a bite out of movie ticket sales in 2019, with total admissions declining nearly 5% to 1.244 billion, according to the National Association of Theater Owners.
Although the 2019 tally was slightly higher than the 1.236 billion recorded in 2017, the totals for both 2017 and 2019 rank as the worst years for movie ticket buying since 1995.
While NATO has adamantly insisted that the rise of streaming only stimulates more theatrical moviegoing, there has never been a year like 2019 in terms of the caliber of features mounted by digital players. Netflix received the most Oscar nominations of any company (24) for films like The Irishman and Marriage Story. The prestige push was also accompanied by bold strokes at the streaming giant with titles like 6 Underground, the Michael Bay-directed Ryan Reynolds action movie.
De Niro is in The Irishman. He’s working for Netflix these days like so many other actors. You would think he would be sensitive to trying to encourage people to go out and purchase traditional movie tickets. To be honest, I rarely go to the movies anymore. Movies are offered on paid subscription channels or streaming services pretty quickly after they premiere in theatres.
I’ll end with offering a clip of De Niro’s speech via my colleague at NewsBusters/MRC. You’ll notice that the audience loved that he turned his speech into a political rally.