Jodie Foster, Wilmer Valderrama and Michael J. Fox Key Speak at Unity Rally Held in Place of Oscars Party
By Lynda Brendish
There were surprise musical guests, food trucks, and a star-studded roster of attendees -- but that's where the similarities with the Hollywood Oscar bashes stopped at the UTA United Voices rally, held Friday in lieu of the agency's usual swank after-party.
Actors, artists, musicians and humanitarians were joined by a crowd of around 1,500 people at the rally in Beverly Hills, to -- as comedian Keegan Michael Key put it -- "support the creative community's growing concern with anti-immigration sentiment in the United States of America and the potential chilling effect on the global exchange of ideas, not to mention freedom of expression."
Two-time Academy Award winner Jodie Foster made a rare public appearance at the rally, admitting that she usually prefers to keep her activism out of the public eye. "As most of you know, I don't do this very often," the 54-year-old actress told the gathered crowd. "I'm not somebody that feels very comfortable using my public face for activism and so in my life, I've found the small ways -- much like most of you -- to serve, to show up, to give somebody a lift at the bottom of the hill when they're going to the top," she said.
"I've always found a subtle way, a quiet way, a personal way," Foster continued. "But this year is a different year and it's time to show up."
Foster also spoke of the good work done by the humanitarian and civil liberties agencies, the International Rescue Committee and the American Civil Liberties Union, both of which were present at the event and were recipients of more than $300,000 donated by UTA.
It was, perhaps, Wilmer Valderrama's speech that was the most heartfelt. The 37-year-old NCIS star recalled the struggles his Venezuelan immigrant parents went through to provide a better life for him and his siblings. In a voice choked with emotion, Valderrama recalled his father's poignant words. "He said that our only job when we got to America was to get the education he never had," Valderrama said. "My sisters and I were the first ones to speak English in our family."
The actor also recalled walking miles with his mother to get groceries from the 99 Cent store as a child, and noticing how her hands turned red and often hurt on those long journeys. "You see, my story is not my story. It's the story of millions that have come for generations to this land, and brick-by-brick made it a country," he continued, to loud cheers.
"Because of them, we look out the window and we see the American flag and we know, that any minute, anything can happen. That at any minute we will all wake up to our own personal American dream," Valderrama said. "See, that's the immigrant story. We built a country where we can live with one another and thrive together and continue to move forward together, to celebrate our culture to celebrate one another as people."
Michael J. Fox, the beloved Back to the Future actor and Parkinson's activist, said his admiration for American principles and values was why he became an American citizen 20 years ago. "And it was a tough process," he revealed to the crowd. "It took about eight years from soup to nuts, from start to finish. And I complained about how long it took -- my visa, then my green card, and then finally I was sworn in as a proud American. And I think, like, what was I bitching about?" he joked.
As Fox continued, his tone turned serious. "There are people that are giving everything, that have lost everything they have and they're struggling to keep their families alive, and to keep food in their mouths and disease away from their bodies -- and at tremendous risk to get here, to this country. And then we say, 'No'?" he continued. "It's an insult on human dignity."
UTA cancelled its Oscars party this year in solidarity with its client, Oscar-nominated Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, who was temporarily prevented from re-entering the U.S. after President Donald Trump's controversial and much-contested travel ban suspended his visa along with those of people from seven Muslim-majority countries. The ban also temporarily halted the United States' entire refugee resettlement program.
In the wake of the ban, Farhadi announced on Jan. 29 that even if restrictions were lifted, he would not attend the Academy Awards on Feb. 26, where he is nominated for Best Foreign Language Film for The Salesman.