I adore a woman who speaks her mind, so between a willingness to be unabashedly opinionated and superb acting talents, Vanessa Redgrave
holds a spot high on my list of favorites. Last week she reached the top of a rather more important list when she
received a career achievement award at the
Hamptons International Film Festival, and during her appearance she assured the audience that her gift for opinion has lasted just as well as her artistic gift.
Apparently Redgrave didn’t wax political for the entire hour-long, onstage conversation with Alec Baldwin, but nonetheless touched upon the
prison-industrial complex and the failure of modern leadership,
suggesting that “if every politician devoted their entire attention to the well-being of children, they’d change everything in ten years.” Mild words, really, coming from the
Year of Magical Thinking star and UNICEF
Goodwill Ambassador who doesn’t mind that openly leftist leanings
have cost her roles in the past. “It’s always worth it to stand by some basic principles,” she explained in a recent
CBS interview. Her rabble-rousing certainly hasn’t cost her any beauty —
she looked as stunning as ever during the event last week.
One of Redgrave’s controversial positions has been her support of Palestinian liberation, expressed most famously during her 1978 Oscar acceptance speech, when she admired the Academy
for resisting threats and protests against her nomination made by “a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums.” (Her title character in
Julia was an anti-fascist helping Jews escape the Nazi regime,
but Redgrave was under serious criticism for supporting documentary film The Palestinian.)
The perhaps less-than-wisely worded Oscar ceremony statement still haunts her today; the Jewish Defense League —
themselves no strangers to controversy — criticized the Hamptons award, with chairperson Shelley Rubin describing “any and all” Jews involved in the
selection as suffering from either “self-hatred or idol-worship.” But in the CBS interview, Redgrave expresses disappointment that less attention is paid to her subsequent
comments back in 1978; she closed her speech by vowing to fight against anti-Semitism and fascism for the rest of her life.
And she has done so. In the midst of movie genius (If These Walls Could Talk 2)
and the occasional pratfall (Evening), she has remained both verbally passionate about
and actively involved in ending war and human rights abuses around the world. The founding member of International Artists Against Racism and co-founder of
U.K. Peace and Progress Party has worked for nuclear disarmament, freedom for Soviet Jews, aid for Bosnian Muslims, justice for Guantanamo
detainees, an end to the war in Iraq and any number of other hot-button causes during decades in the public eye.
Despite the roles she may have forfeited, no one can claim that the Emmy-, Oscar- and Tony-winning actor isn’t famous. Even so, I’m happy that the Hamptons gave her one
of the few lifetime achievement awards she has yet received; here’s hoping that she’s around to receive many more such honors, not to mention a few of the changes she wishes
to see in the world. Sadly, I can’t hold my breath too long for the latter — in the meantime, I’ll listen when Redgrave speaks up, and go see
Atonement when it opens in U.S. theaters this December.
Anyone with me?