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Not that any guests at Saturday night’s PGA Awards needed a reminder of Rita Moreno’s vivacity, but she tipped them off anyway.
Feted by Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain, Moreno took the stage and broke out in dance ahead of accepting her Stanley Kramer Award for social justice work, shaking her shoulders and shimmying her way to the podium while Chastain did the same. While delivering a speech, Moreno kept the momentum going.
“I am not a person of religious faith, but for me, film has often been a sacred text that has spurred me to follow what [Abraham Lincoln] called the ‘better angels of our nature,'” Moreno detailed. “In 1963, I sat on Abraham Lincoln’s steps, only a few feet from [Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.]. I was there. … Thanks to an invitation from Harry Belafonte, I was there to hear the preacher’s dream. In seasons when profits fall silent and statesmen reign, thankfully, filmmakers keep on preaching and never stop advocating for matters of equity and justice.”
Producer and director Stanley Kramer, her award’s namesake, “was one such prophet who never shied from matters of social justice and equity in his body of work,” the actress told the crowd. Because of that, Moreno said it’s so meaningful and gratifying to receive such recognition and be associated with Kramer’s legacy.
“I am 90 now,” said the legend who stars in the best picture-nominated West Side Story for Steven Spielberg. “And working for a lifetime, and this business has taken tenacity and hard work. Advocating for issues of social justice for the last 60 years has been exhausting, exhilarating and life-giving. Had it not been for those sets and the fire set inside me as a young woman, I would certainly not be here tonight receiving this wondrous honor.”
She then praised Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner for the adaptation, a collaboration that tells “the immigrant story with integrity, fleshing out of characters and respecting ethnicities” in such a way that it “put logs on this fire that was inside me.”
Moreno closed her brief speech by countering critics who take aim at actors who use their platforms to speak out on issues that are meaningful to them.
“We are in the throes of yet another award season, and some in our tribe have been known to use a spotlight to advocate for issues addressed in their nominated works — climate change, universal health care, voting rights and LGBTQ advocacy, and many, many others,” Moreno explained. “And I know that in some audiences, that has been known to create, how shall I say — a mild discomfort? For others, heart palpitations. ‘After all, who are these actors, these Hollywood types think they are, huh? Citizens in a democracy?'”
To that, end Moreno said bluntly: “Well, fuck ’em. Freedom of speech belongs to all of us actors. And let’s not forget comedians are patriots, too — just look in the direction of Mr. Zelensky in Ukraine.”
With that, Moreno closed her brief and literal spin in the spotlight by saying, “Thank you, and I promise I’ll be more charming on another occasion.”
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