Robert De Niro's Tony Moment is Everything that is Wrong with Our State-of-the-Union

Matthew Miller

Days after the 2018 Tony Awards I find myself still thinking about Robert De Niro and the comments he made about our sitting President, and the overwhelming ovation of support he received from the Broadway community.  Reflecting on this moment, I can’t help thinking “this is everything that is wrong with our current state-of-the-union.”

Personal political affiliations aside, the theatre community has always felt at home leaning a little to the left.  Every election cycle my Facebook feed blows up with overwhelming support for Democratic or Independent candidates, citing their support for gay rights, health care accessibility, compassionate immigration policies or any other number of liberal ideals.  What changed with the 2016 election was the amount of vile, hostile and hateful rhetoric that we all heard on television and saw published on social media.  I genuinely felt as though the toxicity would subside once the election was completed but somehow it has continued to crescendo into a deafening cacophony of animosity, antagonism, and loathing.

And let's be clear, this is not a Republican problem or a Democratic problem… this is an American problem.

While theatre has always been a place that explored and propagated forward-thinking ideals, it has also been a place of inclusiveness and compassion.  As I explored in my 2017 onstageblog article “Musical Theatre in the Trump Age” theatre is as important as ever in its bridge-building for our audiences to experience compassion and empathy.  Standing on the biggest theatre platform of the year and perpetuating this cycle of hate, and then giving it a standing ovation alienates half of our audience and stands in the way of our ability to unite and inspire through our art.

A 2017 University College London study proved that audiences who watch theatre together actually begin to synchronize their heartbeat.  This demonstrates that theatre is uniquely positioned to be part of the healing process to the toxic culture that we have been living in these past two years.  How can we do that when we publicly profess and support the same hate that we say we despise? 

And let's be clear, this was not an actor who took a moment to include “save the whales” in his acceptance speech or wore a red ribbon to increase awareness about AIDS. 

This was an invited celebrity who was introducing a featured performance by an award winner.  

Theatre has the opportunity to be part of our nation’s healing but in this moment of public declaration we officially became a part of the problem.