From the very first prize presented Sunday, and even before the show began, politics took a starring role in MTV’s Video Music Awards.
Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed during the violence earlier this month in Charlottesville, Virginia, was set to present an award Sunday: Best Fight Against the System, created this year to recognise music videos that embody activism and social justice.
“I’m here to speak for my child. She’s not allowed to speak now except through me, so I’m going to speak for social justice; I’m going to speak for being outraged and paying attention; I’m going to speak for positive action,” Bro told The Associated Press as she made her way into the ceremony at the Forum in Inglewood, California. “We are launching her foundation tonight as a way to make her death count, and that’s very important to me. I don’t willingly give up a child, but if I’m going to, we’re going to make something useful out of it.”
Bro said it would “please my daughter tremendously” that she was appearing on the Video Music Awards with a message of social justice. “I’m just so deeply pleased. This is like a magnifying of Heather’s voice, a magnification of what she would have done.”
Paris Jackson was the first presenter to take the stage, and the first thing she did was decry hate.
“We must show these Nazi white supremacist jerks in Charlottesville, and all over the country, that as a nation with liberty as our slogan, we have zero tolerance for their violence and their hatred and their discrimination,” Michael Jackson’s eldest daughter said before presenting the best pop video award to Fifth Harmony. “We must resist.”
Jack Antonoff wasn’t shy about sharing his political views as he walked the red carpet before the show. The singer-songwriter posed for photos with transgender military service members, saying it would be “absolutely insane not to” support them.
He called President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender service members “the most transphobic, disgusting thing.”
President Donald Trump on Friday directed the Pentagon to extend a ban on transgender individuals joining the military but gave the Pentagon the authority to decide the future of openly transgender people already serving.
“It’s absolutely heartbreaking; a massive step backward, as is every day with Trump,” Antonoff said. “All we can do is survive his presidency.”
Six transgender soldiers and veterans walked the VMA carpet to “tell our stories and help people to realise that trans people are serving in the military just like everyone else,” said Jennifer Peace, an Army captain. “The only thing we’re asking for is to be treated just like everyone else in the military and be discriminated against only based on our performance.”
She said that despite the president’s efforts to ban transgender people from service, morale among the troops is high.
“Our unity is high because we know we’re been doing this job, we know we’re capable of doing the job... Our record stands for itself,” Peace said. “We have trans service members in combat right now, asking, ‘How can I be non-deployable when I’m openly serving as trans when I’m in Afghanistan today?’”