At One Golden Globes Party, Human Rights Took Center Stage

Amnesty International honored three of Hollywood’s most active in social justice issues.
Actor Nazanin Boniadi and Amnesty International USA board chair Ann Burroughs at the Art for Amnesty pre–Golden Globes event. (Photo: John Sciulli/Getty Images)
Jan 10, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Women’s rights, mass incarceration, and mental health aren’t typically topics discussed on a Hollywood red carpet, but the party Amnesty International threw on Friday ahead of Sunday night’s Golden Globes was an exception.

Homeland actor Nazanin Boniadi, The Big Short director Adam McKay, and Jeff Skoll, founder of TakePart’s parent company, Participant Media, were honored by the human rights organization for their work bringing social justice issues to light.

Boniadi served as a spokeswoman for Amnesty from 2009 through last year, campaigning primarily on the rights of women and children in Iran, where she was born. She said she first became aware of Amnesty International while listening to artists such as Bono and Sting as a child growing up in London.

“These women [in Iran] are really struggling. But what I love is that the women are at the forefront...leading the way toward democracy and freedom and equality. They are fearless,” she said on Friday during the afternoon event at the Chateau Marmont. “We have a term for it in Iran. We call them shirzan, which means lioness.”

Boniadi said one of the biggest issues facing women in the theocracy is that they are considered “second-class citizens before the law.” Based on “completely irrational laws,” a woman’s court testimony is worth just half that of a man’s, and adultery by women is punishable by stoning, Boniadi said.

Nick Cannon, the star of the Spike Lee film Chiraq, about the plague of gun violence on Chicago’s South Side, hosted the ceremony, introducing the likes of Amnesty International USA Board Chair Ann Burroughs and Interim Executive Director Margaret Huang. Cannon’s longtime friend and mentor, Russell Simmons, took the stage to share a story about a young rapper signed to his label who, he recently found out, had been sentenced to 25 years in federal prison for drug charges.

The prison-industrial complex has destroyed the fabric of the black community and changed what was church culture and turned it into prison culture,” said Simmons. A decade ago, he successfully campaigned with other artists to reduce the penalties imposed by New York’s strict drug sentencing laws. “It’s been a 40-year war on drugs, [and it] has been so destructive to people of color,” he said, pointing to social media as a powerful tool for raising awareness and bringing about change.

Filmmaker Shira Piven, who accepted an award on behalf of her husband, fellow director McKay, also advocated for prison reform. She mentioned her involvement teaching acting workshops inside the California prison system with the Los Angeles theater group The Actors’ Gang. McKay’s movie The Big Short, which is nominated for a Golden Globe for best musical or comedy, explores the corporate greed that led to the housing crisis of 2008.
When asked what the award from Amnesty International’s first-ever Golden Globes event meant to her, Boniadi referred to a speech given by Ellen DeGeneres only days earlier, when the talk-show host and comedian received a humanitarian award at the People’s Choice Awards. “It’s bizarre to be given an award for being empathetic and kind, which is what we all should be,” said Boniadi. “I always say as an actress I get to portray the human condition, but as an activist I get to change the human condition.”