Harbour, who plays Chief Jim Hopper on the Netflix series, spoke for the cast as they took the stage to accept their award for best ensemble in a drama series.
"This award from you, who take your craft seriously and earnestly believe, like me, that great acting can change the world is a call to arms from our fellow craftsmen and women to go deeper and, through our art, to battle against fear, self-centeredness and exclusivity of our predominantly narcissistic culture," he said. "And through our craft, cultivate a more empathetic and understanding society by revealing intimate truths that serve as a forceful reminder to folks that when they feel broken, and afraid and tired they are not alone."
Harbour's words caused his co-star Winona Ryder to pump her fist in the air.
"We are united in that we are all human beings, and we are all together on this horrible, painful, joyous, exciting and mysterious ride that is being alive," Harbour said.
Harbour ended his speech with a call to action on what was already a politically-charged evening.
"Now, as we act in the continuing narrative of 'Stranger Things,' we 1983 midwesterners will repel bullies, we will shelter freaks and outcasts -- those who have no homes -- [and] we will get past the lies, we will hunt monsters and when we are lost amidst the hypocrisy and casual violence of certain individuals and institutions, we will as per Chief Jim Hopper, punch some people in the face when they seek to destroy the weak, and the disenfranchised and the marginalized and we will do it all with soul, with heart and joy," he said.
"Hidden Figures" star Taraji P. Henson cheered from the crowd. "The People v. O.J. Simpson" star Courtney B. Vance stood from his seat. And "Orange is the New Black" cast member Lea DeLaria put two hands in the air.
"We thank you for this responsibility," Harbour added.
Speaking backstage after the awards, Harbour said while the cast was not anticipating a win, he had written his speech because he's "bad at improvisation."
"I did not want to go up there with nothing to say," he said, adding that the speech went through "many iterations."
"I've had a lot of feelings and thoughts this last week and I wanted to express it in some way that dealt with what we do through our art," he said, making reference to the various executive orders put in place by President Donald Trump, without mentioning Trump by name.
In the minutes after Harbour's speech, Ryder's animated on-stage reaction caught attention on the internet.
Harbour said he "didn't see her reaction," but claimed he did run the speech by some of his cast mates in advance.
"I was very appreciative of their feedback," he said.
"Stranger Things" beat out the likes of "Game of Thrones," Westworld," "Downton Abbey," and "The Crown" in the ensemble category.
Stranger Things' political SAG Awards speech was about standing up to real-life bullies and monsters
One of the biggest surprises at the 2017 SAG Awards was the cast of Netflix’s Stranger Things winning Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series over the casts of shows like The Crown and Game of Thrones. But perhaps the biggest surprise was the acceptance speech that followed.
David Harbour, who plays Chief of Police Jim Hopper on the 1980s-set Stranger Things, accepted the show’s trophy while backed by his fellow cast members. He used the opportunity to deliver the most unexpected and thrilling speech of the night, offering a sly commentary on the current state of American and global politics.
“In light of all that's going on in the world today, it's difficult to celebrate the already celebrated Stranger Things. But this award from you, who take your craft seriously and earnestly believe, like me, that great acting can change the world, is a call to arms from our fellow craftsmen and women to go deeper, and through our art to battle against fear, self-centeredness, and exclusivity of our predominantly narcissistic culture,” Harbour shouted, assessing the post-Trump America that he has observed, and praising the power of art to transcend it.
Though he never mentioned Trump directly, he called for unity, asking his fellow actors to, “through our craft, cultivate a more empathetic and understanding society by revealing intimate truths that serve as a forceful reminder to folks that when they feel broken and afraid and tired, they are not alone.”
Watching Harbour unleash those words and build momentum as the crowd cheered him on was like watching thunder roll in before the storm. His speech just got bigger and more powerful as he tied Stranger Things’ fictional, nostalgic tale of demogorgons and upside-down worlds to everything we’ve seen in 2017 thus far, including President Trump’s sweeping executive order on immigration. He even offered a definitive answer to a recent debate over whether it’s okay to punch a white nationalist in the face.
“We are united, in that we are all human beings and we are all together on this horrible, painful, joyous, exciting, and mysterious ride that is being alive. Now, as we act in the continuing narrative of Stranger Things, we 1983 Midwesterners will repel bullies,” Harbour said, bringing down the house as the crowd rose for a standing ovation. “We will shelter freaks and outcasts — those who have no hope. We will get past the lies. We will hunt monsters. And when we are at a loss amidst the hypocrisy and casual violence of certain individuals and institutions, we will, as per Chief Jim Hopper, punch some people in the face when they seek to destroy the meek and the disenfranchised and the marginalized. And we will do it all with soul, with heart, and with joy. We thank you for this responsibility.”
Stranger Things Star Deliver the Most Explosive Moment of the SAG Awards
When the cast of Stranger Things took the stage to accept the award for best ensemble in a drama series, at the SAG Awards Sunday night, they elected star David Harbour (a.k.a. Chief Jim Hopper) to speak for them. And while Harbour’s speech was filled with some of the most passionate, political rhetoric of an already political night, it was co-star Winona Ryder’s face that spoke a thousand words.
The cast was already plenty wound up by the time they hit the stage, with young performers Finn Wolfhard, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, Gaten Matarazzo, and Millie Bobby Brown literally jumping up and down with joy. But their boisterous leaping and clapping continued as Harbour proclaimed: “This award from yo,u who take your craft seriously and earnestly believe, like me, that great acting can change the world, is a call to arms from the great men and women to go deeper and through our art battle fear, self-centerdness, and exclusivity of our predominantly narcissistic culture and through our craft to develop a more empathetic and understanding society.”
Though it’s unclear exactly how Ryder felt about Harbour’s political statement, she let more than a dozen different emotions play over her face as he spoke. Seeming by turns uneasy, supportive, and at times mocking, Ryder grinned, scowled, and threw up a fist or two from just over Harbour’s shoulder.
Unaware of Ryder’s antics behind him (but surely seeing Brown, Matarazzo, et. al. supportively hopping around in his peripheral vision), Harbour concluded by answering one of the questions currently plaguing some Americans: is it okay to punch a Nazi? “We will, per chief Jim Hopper,” Harbour shouted, ”punch some people in the face when they seek to destroy the weak, the disenfranchised, and the marginalized.” For that explosive conclusion, Harbour got a standing ovation—and enthusiastic approval from Ryder.