Art and Experience: Heavy-hitter Hollywood talent agency UTA eschewed its typical glitzy Oscar party in favor of a Friday afternoon event — billed as the United Voices rally — in front of their offices in Beverly Hills. Members of the UTA family and other entertainment industry players joined together, they stated: “to express the creative community’s support for freedom of speech and artistic expression, and stand against policies of exclusion and division.”
The idea for the rally was sparked by the recent news that Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi — a UTA client — would likely be forced to skip the Oscars (where he is a nominee for his foreign-language contender “The Salesman”) due to the executive order travel ban that prohibited citizens from seven Muslim countries, including Iran, to enter the United States. Though the ban has been halted, Farhadi announced that he would still not attend the event.
In a video message from Tehran, Farhadi’s first public appearance since the ban, the filmmaker thanked the community for their support and solidarity during such a trying time.
“It is comforting to me to know that, at a time when some politicians are trying to promote hate by creating divisions between cultures and religions and nationalities, the cinema community has joined the people in a common show of unity to announce its opposition,” Farhadi said.
Actor and comedian Keegan-Michael Key opened the event with a powerful speech welcoming the large crowd — reportedly clocking in at well over 500 people — and reaffirming his dedication to standing by Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs. “This is America, where you get to believe what you want,” Key said to cheers.
Though the majority of the crowd was staunchly anti-Donald Trump, a handful of supporters of the president made their way through the crowd. Despite Key’s vocal support for their presence, two men holding a large Trump banner later lightly tussled with a pack of rally-goers.
In her remarks, filmmaker and actress Jodie Foster opted to accentuate the positive, laughingly opening her speech with a cheery cry of, “this is a great idea!”
Foster, who has typically shied away from using her celebrity to advance political aims, made it plain that these extraordinary times call for some very different measures. “I don’t do this very often, but this year is a different year, this is a singular time — it’s one to show up, time to engage,” Foster said. “As the very dead Frederick Douglass once said, ‘any time is a good time for illumination.’”
She continued to an inspired crowd, “It’s time to show up, to resist, to show up and demand answers, to tell our elected officials to do their job. We will not tolerate chaos and ineptitude and war-mongering.”
Other speakers, including Wilmer Valderrama and Michael J. Fox, used their time on stage to reflect on their individual paths to American citizenship, reaffirming the need for America to keep up its proud tradition of welcoming citizens from well beyond the country’s borders. Both implored citizens to stand together and never back down from protecting their country and what makes it great.
The rally also included remarks from speakers not often associated with Hollywood, including California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, International Rescue Committee President & CEO David Miliband, and executive director at the ACLU of Southern California Hector Villagra, who issued perhaps the most passionate pleas of the day.
“The president build his campaign on fear-mongering and scapegoating,” Villagra said. “You know the list — Mexicans, Muslims, immigrants, women, transgender people. He attacked the media and even mocked a reporter with a disability. He told the nation that Muslims threatened our security, that the Muslims who are our neighbors and friends are to be feared, registered and watched. He said those Muslims outside the U.S. should be banned from entering. He told the nation that Latino immigrants are murderers and rapists and drug dealers.”
He added, “We are fighting now, and we will never back down.” The crowd went wild.