Celebs Who Got Political On Live TV

The effectiveness of celebs protesting for political reasons is a hotly debated topic. History has given us stars using their fame to push for significant social change, while it has also given us empty celebrity activism that fails to follow through with it's inspiring promise once it leaves the red carpet. With the advent of technology, celebrity opinions on a wide range of political and social issues have become more accessible to the masses, and their power to influence public opinion at the polls and the picket line is now commonplace. Whether you agree with them or not, stars are using their amplified voices to advocate for the causes they believe in without apology.

From refusing an Academy Award and denouncing Hollywood's depiction of Native Americans to taking a knee during the national anthem and silently protest police brutality, here are a few celebrities throughout the years who've gotten political on live TV.

Muhammad Ali vs. the Vietnam War

Muhammad Ali's refusal to fight in Vietnam War because, as a black Muslim, he was a conscientious objector is legendary at this point in history. "My conscience won't let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America," Ali once said on live TV. "And shoot them for what? They never called me n***er, they never lynched me, they didn't put no dogs on me, they didn't rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail."

On June 20, 1967, Ali was convicted of draft evasion and sentenced to five years in prison. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually overturned his conviction, resulting in the anti-war movement growing in strength. Speaking at college campuses, Ali silenced those pressuring him to be involved in what many believed to be an unjust war with compelling arguments.

"My enemies are white people, not Viet Cong or Chinese or Japanese, you my opposer when I want freedom," Ali said. "You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality."

Marlon Brando refuses his Oscar

During the 45th Academy Awards in 1973, Marlon Brando was a favorite to win the Best Actor Oscar for his legendary performance as Don Corleone in The Godfather. Brando reportedly knew he was going to win, so that's why he didn't show up, sending Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather instead to use the opportunity to decry Hollywood's depiction of Native Americans and to offer support for the American Indian Movement. As she approached the podium, Littlefeather refused to take the Oscar statue presented to her by Roger Moore and delivered the following speech:

"Hello. My name is Sacheen Littlefeather. I'm Apache and I am president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee. I'm representing Marlon Brando this evening and he has asked me to tell you in a very long speech ... that he very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry — excuse me — and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.

Some celebs in the audience booed.

Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins fight HIV

At the 65th Academy Awards ceremony in 1993, the audience was filled with celebs wearing red ribbons to support those living with HIV and AIDS. When Susan Sarandon and her longtime beau, Tim Robbins, took to the stage to present the Oscar for best film editing, the activist pair protested the United States government for their detention of Haitians infected with those diseases.

"In the spirit of the red ribbons being worn here this evening, we'd like to call attention to the 266 Haitians that are being held at Guantanamo Bay by the United States government. Their crime? Testing positive for the HIV virus," Robbins opened. "On their behalf and all the people living with HIV in this country, we'd like to ask our governing officials in Washington to admit that HIV is not a crime and to admit these people into the United States," Sarandon ended

Sally Field takes on the Iraq War

When Sally Field took the stage in 2007 to accept the Emmy for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series for her work on Brothers & Sisters, nobody expected her acceptance speech to become a referendum on the United States' involvement in Iraq. After the usual thank yous, Field paralleled her character's experience as matriarch Nora Walker to the experiences of mothers around the world, closing with a blistering sentiment that was cut out for the tape-delayed television audience.

"So surely this belongs to all the mothers of the world. May they be seen, may their work be valued, and especially the mothers who stand with an open heart and wait. Wait for their children to come home. From danger. From harm's way. And from war," Field concluded. "I am proud to be one of those women. And let's face it, if mothers ruled the world, there would be no god***n wars in the first place!"

Backstage in the press room, Field was just as heated, claiming she would have "liked to have said more four-letter words up there" (per the Los Angeles Times). When pressed for further comment, the two-time Oscar-winner vehemently stood my by her remarks and didn't seem too concerned about her use of adjectives.

"If they bleep it, oh, well. I'll just say it somewhere else," she said. I wonder if aliens heard that mic drop from space.

Kanye West calls out George W. Bush

On Sept. 2, 2005, the benefit A Concert for Hurricane Relief was broadcast live on three major networks to raise money for the victims who suffered from the devastation in Hurricane Katrina. The hour-long telethon, seen by over 8.5 million people, raised over $50 million and gave us one of the most powerfully awkward moments in the history of television.

We all know how it went down. Comedian Mike Myers and Kanye West stepped in front of the camera, and, with Myer's teleprompter lines completed, West calmly said, "I hate the way they portray us in the media." From that moment on, Myers could only stand there in shock. West's famous rant had begun. "If you see a black family, it says, 'They're looting.' You see a white family, it says, 'They're looking for food,'" the rapper said (via Today).

"America is set up to help the poor, the black people, the less well-off, as slow as possible. I mean, this is — Red Cross is doing everything they can," West continued. "We already realize a lot of people that could help are at war right now, fighting another way — and they've given them permission to go down and shoot us."

A visibly shaken Myers then read his last few lines to a dead-silent studio, before West added, "George Bush doesn't care about black people."

Sean Penn argues for gay rights

Outside the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles that played host to the 81st Academy Awards in 2009, militant anti-gay protesters gathered to rail against marriage equality and to celebrate the death of Heath Ledger with 'Heath In Hell" signs due to his role in Brokeback Mountain. Inside, Sean Penn nabbed the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Harvey Milk, a San Francisco politician and gay rights activist assassinated in 1978. Calling the A-list audience, "commie, homo-loving sons of guns," Penn addressed the hatred they all saw outside.

"For those who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight," the actor stated. "I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren's eyes if they continue that way of support. We've got to have equal rights for everyone."

Backstage, a visibly dejected Penn lashed out at the "culture of ignorance that has bred this kind of hateful expression, that these people have their signs outside essentially telling you that you're less than human."

George Clooney gets arrested for Sudan

In 2015, George Clooney, along with congressmen and fellow activists, converged outside the Sudanese Embassy in Washington, D.C. to protest the atrocities Sudan president Omar Al-Bashir committed against his innocent civilians. Surrounded by media, Clooney laid out his demands.

"We are here really to ask two very simple questions: the first question is something immediate — and immediately, we need humanitarian aid to be allowed into the Sudan before it becomes the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Immediately," Clooney began. "The second thing we are here to ask, it's a very simple thing, is for the government in Khartoum to stop randomly killing its own innocent men, women and children. Stop raping them and stop starving them. That's all we ask."

Moments later, Clooney was arrested by Secret Service and "charged with disorderly crossing of a police line, a misdemeanor" (per CNN). He paid a $100 fine and was released.

Mark Ruffalo says no to a pipeline

In 2016, Mark Ruffalo protested alongside the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and other environmental activists in defiance of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota that was currently under construction. After returning from the protest, he appeared on CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper where he described the aggressive actions of law enforcement and the inhumane treatment of the protestors. Tapper then thanked him for his time, but Ruffalo was far from finished.

"There's people being really hurt there... It's very scary and these people are just like us. We can't forget our humanity in the face of these kinds of things," Ruffalo stated. "We have a corporation and a state that is working on behalf of a corporation to hurt our people. They're militarized. The National Guard has been called in. I mean, this is not an emergency, this is not a national emergency. These are peaceful protestors. The State Department, the Department of Interior, the DOJ, and President Obama has asked them to voluntarily halt any construction until this can be worked out in a peaceful manner. And Jack Dalrymple of North Dakota, if there's blood on anyone's hands, it's on his hands."

Colin Kaepernick takes a knee

No protest in recent memory has sparked more controversy and debate than former San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick's refusal to stand for the national anthem in an effort to bring awareness to police brutality and the mistreatment of black people and other minorities at the hands of law enforcement. 

"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told NFL media after a 2016 game. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

His decision came with immediate backlash from fans, NFL owners, and presidential candidates alike. However, Kaepernick stood his ground. "I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed," he continued. "If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right."

The NFL indeed took all that away from him, yet he continues to be a voice and champion for social justice in America. Meanwhile, the NFL instituted a policy that requires players to stand for the anthem or be subject to fines. Sigh. 

Viola Davis makes a passionate speech at the Women's March

"In the words of my fellow American, Malcolm X: I'm gonna make it plain," celeb Viola Davis said on live TV, starting her rousing speech at the 2018 Women's March. And that she did. Unlike the previous year's Women's March, the #MeToo movement was in full swing after numerous high-profile men in Hollywood faced allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape. However, Davis used her platform to note that women of color sexually assaulted before the age of 18 are 66 percent more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted again. 

"I am speaking today not just for the 'Me Too's' because, I was a 'Me Too,' but when I raise my hand, I am aware of all the women who are still in silence," the Oscar-winner said. "The women who are faceless. The women who don't have the money and don't have the constitution and who don't have the confidence and who don't have the images in our media that gives them a sense of self-worth enough to break their silence that's rooted in the shame of assault."

Calling upon the names of activists who personally sacrificed for change, Davis echoed the words of Martin Luther King Jr., telling the roaring crowd that the price of freedom is indeed not free. "As we live on earth, we've got to bring everyone with us," Davis passionately pleaded, reminding everyone that nobody is free until we all are.

Robert De Niro takes on Trump at the Tonys

"I'd like to punch him in the face," legendary actor Robert De Niro said in a 2016 video for the "Get Out the Vote" campaign. As you see, when it comes to Donald Trump, the two-time Oscar winner never minces words, and at the 2018 Tony Awards, while introducing a Bruce Springsteen performance, De Niro took it next level: "I'm gonna say one thing: 'F**k Trump,'" the Raging Bull star told the crowd. "It's no longer 'Down with Trump,' it's 'F**k Trump.'" No need to read between the lines, there. 

As expected, Trump responded two days later on his favorite app: Twitter. "Robert De Niro, a very Low IQ individual, has received too many shots to the head by real boxers in movies. I watched him last night and truly believe he may be 'punch-drunk.'" It doesn't matter that De Niro has only played a boxer once in his career. The president picked an insult, and he was sticking to it, tweeting: "I guess he doesn't realize the economy is the best it's ever been with employment being at an all time [sic] high, and many companies pouring back into our country. Wake up Punchy!"