Robert De Niro had quite a bit to say about the state of the arts under President Donald Trump at Monday night’s Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Chaplin Award Gala in New York.
The actor was on hand to receive the prestigious film award and took the opportunity to lambast Trump for proposed cuts to the National Endowment of the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
“We still make movies to entertain. But posterity determines whether it’s art or not. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately with our current government’s hostility towards the arts,” said De Niro. “For their own divisive political purposes the administration suggests the money from these programs go to liberal elites. This is what they call alternative facts. I’m calling it what it is, bullsh—.”
De Niro slammed the proposed cuts to the arts, saying he didn’t make movies for “liberal elites” and also criticized immigration and healthcare policies under the Trump administration, nodding to actor Charlie Chaplin, for which his award was named.
“[Our industry] owes a debt to Charlie Chaplin, an immigrant who probably wouldn’t pass today’s extreme vetting,” said De Niro.
Cinema’s biggest stars were out in force otherwise to support the actor. With a career spanning nearly 50 years, De Niro’s filmography ranges from classics to comedies, and everyone had a favorite De Niro role they were eager to share.
Presenter Meryl Streep reflected back to when she was a drama student, watching De Niro play Bruce in “Bang the Drum Slowly” and Johnny Boy in “Mean Streets” — she was struck that there was just one actor playing such wildly different roles.
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“I thought, alright, I’m going to listen to everyone that tells me how to act [at school], but I think I just found my teacher,” she said of her longtime friend. “I’m going to follow him because he knows something profound about what we do.”
Ben Stiller, De Niro’s co-star from the “Meet the Parents” franchise, joked his favorite De Niro moment was the “overlooked” 2000 live-action film “The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle.”
“I love Bob. I feel like I can kind of call him Bob now, although I never feel really comfortable calling him that when he’s not around,” Stiller told Variety. “Ask any actor and they’ll say he’s been hugely influential to dramatic and comedic roles. His body of work is really tremendous, and I don’t say tremendous for a lot of people.”
Michael Douglas, who starred opposite De Niro for the first time in a feature film in 2013’s “Last Vegas,” said he too was always impressed with his contemporary’s ability to embrace such a variety of roles.
“God knows if you’re going to honor somebody it should be Bobby,” said Douglas. “In his early work, and in general, I cherish that unpredictable quality he brings, that hint of danger and edge. I like Johnny Boy from ‘Mean Streets.’ I was a big fan early on. But I also was on the floor [laughing] when he did ‘Meet the Fockers.’”
Sean Penn presented too, detailing the effect of “Deer Hunter,” “Raging Bull” and “Taxi Driver” on him as a developing actor.
“Seeing those films, I was seeing an actor whose presence and personal expression and ownership was more than any director could have ever dreamed to have had,” said Penn.
Also on hand were De Niro’s industry colleagues Martin Scorsese, Whoopi Goldberg, John Turturro, Lorne Michaels, Harvey Keitel and Barry Levinson.