Award show surprise! Boos meet De Niro's anti-Trump screed

Welp. That never happens. Not in the realm of run-of-the-mill awards shows, anyway.

The American Icon Awards were presented Sunday. This is a new award that honors “Excellence in Leadership in Business, Entertainment, Sports and Education” – by a “Los Angeles based philanthropic organization established in 2014”, according to its website. So much for philanthropic gestures, though, from actor Robert De Niro. He had to promote another agenda.

Trust me when I tell you that railing against President Trump in the crudest of terms is nothing new for Robert De Niro. I have written about awards shows for several years now, not here but elsewhere, and to date, De Niro’s high water mark is the Tony Awards. In June 2018, he introduced singer Bruce Springsteen but first delivered his anti-Trump message. “F**k Trump” is what he yelled out and the audience absolutely went wild. They jumped to their feet and applauded. CBS censored the language with a quick bleep. His tirade at the American Icon Awards was tame in comparison. Thank goodness.

Mind you, De Niro was introducing his good friend and fellow actor, Al Pacino. Pacino, along with music legend Quincy Jones and boxing champion Evander Holyfield was chosen to be honored. Filmmaker Martin Scorsese kicked off the evening with a tribute via video to both De Niro and Pacino, who he directed in the upcoming Netflix film, The Irishmen. De Niro started off in a light-hearted way, a sort of roast of his friend as he reminisced about their friendship and careers. He spoke about various movies and Broadway productions and poked light fun at himself.

De Niro also touched on how for years both vied for the title of the top actor in Hollywood, with a hint of self-deprecation. “In many ways we’ve had parallel careers: we both started as theater actors, and one of the things that so impresses me about Al is that he keeps returning to the stage,” he offered. “Not me. Instead, I open restaurants. And each of us known for dramatic trilogies that defines the culture of our generation, Al with the three Godfathers, me with the three Fokkers.”

Yet somewhere along the way, as he was entertaining the audience with his speech, De Niro couldn’t help himself. His affliction with Trump derangement syndrome is so real that he had to insert politics into his remarks. Some of the audience booed. That’s amazing.

“You didn’t think you were going to completely get away without a ‘f— Trump’ moment,” De Niro said midway through his speech at the Beverly Wilshire hotel on Sunday, as the actor’s pivot to politics was met with a mix of cheers, laughter and boos.

De Niro then praised the other luminaries receiving awards at the event. “The champ Evander Holyfield, my friend Quincy Jones and my lifelong compatriot Al Pacino don’t lead America. Maybe they should,” the 75-year-old actor said. “They’ve earned our respect and admiration and they deserve this tribute. On the other hand, the individual who currently purports to lead this country is not worthy of any tribute, unless you think of his impeachment and imprisonment as a sort of tribute. And that’s how you can make America great again.”

Even if the boos only came from a few people, that is completely out of the ordinary for awards shows these days. The entertainment industry began their anti-Trump, anti-conservative, anti-Republican bashing not long after Trump formally declared as a candidate in 2016. The irony was never lost on most of us, though, that literally months before that time, Trump was a part of their world. He attended the events and social soirees of the elite in Hollywood and New York, as well as politics. He was acknowledged for his contributions. That all quickly changed when he decided to run as a Republican for president and then he won.

De Niro is an outspoken member of #TheResistance, but his friend Pacino doesn’t wear his politics on his sleeve. His acceptance speech was politics-free. He turned it into more of a performance than a speech, reciting Shakespeare and E.E. Cummings. How refreshing. De Niro brought him to the stage by reciting Pacino’s famous line from Scarface – “Say hello to your little friend!”

Accepting a rousing ovation, Pacino received the honor warmly, even as he grasped to express himself. “I am so grateful for this honor — I feel humbled by it,” he said, “I’m not a man of many words, especially in these situations.”

So instead he relied on his craft, bringing the words of others to vivid, expressive life. From the stage he launched into a scene from playwright Tennessee Williams’ Orpheus Descending, then shifted gears into a verse from poet E. E. Cummings’ “Somewhere I Have Never Traveled, Gladly Beyond,” and closed with a rousing delivery of the famed speech from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Act II Scene II — at one point Pacino had stepped fully away from the microphone, but still played to the back of the Beverly Hills ballroom.