Robert De Niro: slamming the U.S. in Dubai

Robert De Niro

For a long time, nobody thought of Robert De Niro as an American thinker, great or otherwise. For over a quarter century, however, he was unquestionably a great American artist – a remarkably versatile and extraordinarily compelling actor who created immortal characters in such films as The Godfather, Part II, Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Cape Fear, and Casino. He was nominated for several Oscars, and won two. In short, a cinematic treasure.

De Niro and Anne Hathaway in The Intern

In recent years, however, De Niro has become what some uncharitable observers might describe as a sellout. You might have gotten a few laughs out of Analyze This and Analyze That, but nobody will ever confuse them with The Godfather, Part I and II. You can say one thing about those two comedies – they look like Preston Sturges masterpieces alongside Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers, and Little Fockers. And the movies have just gotten worse and worse: The Intern, Dirty Grandpa, and The Comedian gave new meaning to the word lightweight. He’s obviously decided to stop going with the best scripts and instead grab at the biggest paychecks.

With Obama at that 2012 fundraiser

Of course, he’s entirely within his rights. What’s interesting to us is that while De Niro the artist has shriveled, another creature has risen up from the murk: De Niro the political commentator. In 2012, he spoke at an exclusive Obama campaign event in New York – attended by such left-wing showbiz luminaries as Harvey Weinstein and Whoopi Goldberg – at which he put race at the heart of the matter. “Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney,” he said. “Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?” It was obviously meant as a joke, but what’s the joke?

But that was nothing. In October 2016, a month or so before the presidential election, he made headlines by releasing a video in which he urged the electorate not to vote for Donald Trump. “He’s so blatantly stupid,” De Niro said, appearing to channel one of his gangster characters. “He’s a punk. He’s a dog. He’s a pig. He’s a con.” It went on – and got nastier from there. “He’s a national disaster. He’s an embarrassment to this country.” De Niro concluded by saying he’d like to punch Trump in the face.

The video was notable for its utter lack of anything resembling a serious argument. It didn’t so much as touch on a single real issue. It was pure name-calling. Days later, while in Dubai to promote investment in Antigua and Barbuda, where he was involved in a resort development (could it be that he and Trump have more in common than he realizes?), De Niro told an interviewer that Trump “does not have a clue about what goes on in the rest of the world.”

He was still at it this past January, when, standing at the lectern at the National Board of Review awards ceremony, he delivered what one news source accurately called “an expletive-filled rant” about Trump. “This f***ing idiot is the President,” De Niro said, and went on to call Trump a “f***ing fool” and “the jerkoff-in-chief.” Once again, he had nothing of substance to say about Trump. Once again, it was just name-calling – which he (quite mistakenly) appeared to consider amusing.

The other day, De Niro was back in Dubai, this time to attend the World Government Summit. He was there “to help combat climate change.” In a speech at the summit, he unfavorably compared the U.S., which he called “a backward country,” to the United Arab Emirates, which he described as “an example to the rest of the world.” Under Trump, he charged, Americans were suffering from “temporary insanity.”

De Niro in Dubai

Reading his remarks, one wondered who, exactly, was insane; who, exactly, was an embarrassment to his country; who, exactly, was clueless “about what goes on” in the world. There he was, praising as a role model a country that’s governed under sharia law – a country that denies its citizens many basic human rights, that carries out floggings and stonings, that restricts freedom of speech and of the press, that punishes apostasy, adultery, and homosexuality with death, that permits men to beat their wives, and that treats not rapists but rape victims as criminals.

Two pieces of advice for Robert De Niro. Go back to making good movies. And stick to the words in the script.

Debra Messing: Saving the world, one red carpet at a time

This year’s red carpet

It goes without saying that sexual abuse is a despicable crime. But how many of the men who walked the Golden Globes red carpet this year had their own dark secrets? How many of the women owed their success, at least in part, to decisions to yield to sexual aggression by powerful producers or directors or stars – and to keep quiet about it? As the scale of the sex abuse scandal ballooned over the last few months, many people wondered how Hollywood, once awards season came, would deal with its shame.

Debra Messing before the big show

After all, they’ve been posing for decades as pillars of virtue, lecturing to the American public in their projects and in their talk-show appearances. Surely the scandal would embarrass them, mortify them. How, under such circumstances, could they go through with their annual self-celebration? What’s clear now is that Hollywood doesn’t have any shame – these people’s egos are so massive, their sense of superiority to the hoi polloi so unshakable, that even now they still feel perfectly comfortable preaching into the cameras.

Which brings us back to Will and Grace star Debra Messing, whose recent turn to outspoken political activism we began discussing on Tuesday. Listening to her red-carpet rant, you’d have thought, for a second, that you were witnessing some revolutionary gathering of the downtrodden rather than a glamorous black-tie event for some of the most privileged people on earth. You’d have thought that Messing was standing not on a red carpet but on some barricade out of Les Miz. As we noted on Tuesday, she called for “intersectional gender parity.” How many viewers who’d tuned in seeking diversion from their real-life problems knew what on earth Messing was talking about? “Intersectional gender parity”? It was not only obnoxious and inappropriate, but also wildly pretentious.

Harvey Weinstein

Plainly, Messing, like so many of her showbiz colleagues, wants to be seen as a spokesperson for ordinary women and people of color and poor folks generally; she wants the world to see her as a great big heart overflowing with sensitivity and sympathy for those less fortunate than herself. But how many of the real-life people for whom she pretends to speak have any idea what “intersectional” means? Has the question ever crossed Messing’s mind? This, folks, is precisely the essence of Hollywood radicalism these days: it’s not remotely about the limousine set identifying with the rabble or wanting to help improve their lot; it’s about showbiz luminaries virtue signaling to one another.

Ronan Farrow

Naturally, the mainstream media loved it. For example, NBC News called Messing’s comments “fearless” and “powerful.” Now, NBC News, it will be remembered, is the news organization for which Ronan Farrow prepared his exposé on Harvey Weinstein – the sensational story that kicked off the whole Hollywood sex scandal. It will also be remembered that NBC News, which is now so eager to praise people like Messing as “fearless” and “powerful,” was itself too timid to run Farrow’s story itself – which was why it ended up being published in the New Yorker. Ah, the courage!

Mickey Rourke’s price tag – and other Putin purchases

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Sophia Loren and Putin at a 2012 event

Yesterday we discussed a December 2010 benefit at which stars like Sharon Stone, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner, Paul Anka, Gérard Depardieu, and Mickey Rourke gleefully rubbed shoulders with Vladimir Putin.

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Paul Anka obviously enjoying himself

That was bad enough. But it gets worse. Guess what? The benefit, it turned out, hadn’t really been a benefit at all: not a single hospital or clinic or other such organization ended up receiving so much as a ruble as a result of it. Yet that didn’t keep Putin’s pals from organizing a similar event the following year – and, astonishingly, it didn’t prevent another gaggle of famous folk from turning up.

Among them: Chris Noth of Sex and the City, Sophia Loren, Steven Seagal, Andrea Bocelli, Francis Ford Coppola, Kevin Costner, Woody Allen, Jeremy Irons – and Isabella Rosellini, who, according to the New Yorker, had been informed that morning that she was involved in a scambut was unfazed by it.”

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Mickey Rourke in Putin t-shirt

Max Seddon and Rosie Gray, writing about these shenanigans recently in Buzzfeed, provided information about Seagal’s trips to Russia – which they described as “frequent” – that was new to us. In 2007 he visited Kalmykia, a majority-Buddhist province, and promised its leader, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, to produce and star in a movie about Genghis Khan; when that project failed to get green-lighted, Seagal blamed “the Jews”: “There are no Buddhists among the people who finance movies,” he explained. Another tidbit from Buzzfeed: last August, while Russian troops were pouring into Ukraine, Mickey Rourke, in exchange for a $50,000 Kremlin payment, allowed himself to be photographed wearing a Putin t-shirt. (Rourke had previously said that he purchased the t-shirt of his own accord and solely for reasons of private sentiment: “I have a Russian girlfriend.”) 

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Woody Allen shaking the hand of Roman Abramovich, whom Putin has described as a “son”

Finally, as recently as this June – while Poland and the Baltic republics were begging NATO to beef up their defenses in case of a possible Russian invasion – Woody Allen was spotted in Russia again, this time attending the opening of a new art museum owned by billionaire – and Putin intimate – Roman Abramovich and his wife, Daria Zhukova. Other guests at the opening included George Lucas, Harvey Weinstein, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Salma Hayek. Was Allen, we wonder, paid to be there – or was he, perhaps, fishing for Russian financing for a future project? As for Putin, is he courting these people, who’ve already provided him with positive press in the West, in hopes of developing some larger-scale, longer-term connection with some of the Tinseltown powers-that-be? Who’s better at propaganda, after all, than Hollywood?