Beverly Hills >> Using their names and fame to stand against what they call President Donald Trump’s policies of “exclusion and division,” some of Hollywood’s biggest movie and television stars addressed a crowd of hundreds Friday at the United Voices rally in support of immigrant rights and creative expression.
Jodie Foster told protesters gathered outside the United Talent Agency offices in Beverly Hills that she often doesn’t feel comfortable using her public face for activism, but that the time had come. “It’s time to show up. It’s a singular time in history. It’s time to engage,” Foster said on stage.
She also sent a message to the president: “The White House is our house. It’s the people’s house.”
Michael J. Fox followed by telling the crowd, “I’m proud to stand here to support values I admire.”
Fox, who was born in Canada, said he became an American citizen because he admires American values.
“Today we stand united,” he said. “We will never surrender our shared values.”
Comedian and actor Keegan-Michael Key added, “This is definitely my America right here.”
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United Talent Agency — more commonly known as UTA — surprised the entertainment community by announcing it would scrap its annual Oscar gala. Instead, the agency said it would host an Oscars-weekend protest and donate $250,000 to the International Rescue Committee and the ACLU, which has been fighting Trump’s executive order temporarily banning travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Jeremy Zimmer, CEO of UTA, told the crowd his agency wanted to express its growing concern over anti-immigration sentiment in the country.
“We had this crazy idea and they (UTA board members) all said, ‘Yeah, do it. It’s the right thing to do,’” he said. “It’s an important time to take note of exactly what’s going on.”
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UTA represents a long list of stars including James Franco, Angelina Jolie and Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, who is nominated for an Oscar in the best foreign language film category for “The Salesman.” Farhadi previously said he would not attend Sunday’s Academy Awards in protest of Trump’s travel restrictions.
Farhadi saluted the crowd Friday from Iran in a video message played during the rally. He said artists “can break stereotypes” by “turning their cameras to capture shared human qualities.”
The rally may have been out of the ordinary, but Hollywood has a long history of activism, said UCLA sociology professor Gabriel Rossman, who specializes in cultural industries. In 1947, The Committee for the First Amendment was formed by actors in support of The Hollywood Ten, who were accused of being involved with the Communist Party.
“This was a huge production, where all these major stars signed petitions,” Rossman said of the committee.
And other actions have taken place since, he noted.
“I’m old enough to remember when it seemed for 10 years, every actor wore a red ribbon in support of AIDS,” Rossman said.
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During Friday’s rally, many people carried signs showing support for refugees. One sign, shaped as a heart read: “You are welcome always.”
Another was aimed toward Trump: “Build a longer table, not a bigger wall.”
California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom told the crowd the word of the day was “pluralism.”
“I’m here for equal pay,” Newsom said. “I’m here for transgender rights. I’m here for our dreamers ... I’m here for Syrian refugees ... I’m here for an open and free press.”
“NCIS” actor Wilmer Valderrama, whose parents came here from Venezuela, said immigrants built the U.S. “brick by brick.”
He also reminded the Hollywood community that they have a responsibility.
“Our responsibility is more than telling stories,” he said. “Our responsibility is to tell the truth.”
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