The Golden Globes were awash in a sea of black dresses and tuxes. But aside from rousing speeches, especially from Oprah, is anything going to come of this?
Last night’s Golden Globe Awards, the first since women began to break their silence about harassment and sexual assault in Hollywood—a problem so pervasive that it has revealed hundreds of stories in entertainment, and thousands more in just about every industry where men and women work side by side—was an interesting study in how protest movements take shape.
Like any movement of resistance, the lessons of tolerance and acceptance didn’t come from the establishment, but from the individuals who have been living and suffering from the oppression created within it.
Just three months ago, Hollywood was operating as usual—a machine fueled by profits and a hunger for fame, a celebrated industry admired the world over; and a complicit vehicle for some of the worst systemic gender oppression in America. But last night, some of its most recognizable influencers, the ones who have the power to create jobs, shape cultural conversations, and most importantly can take the risk to make a stand for those who can’t, sent a strong message that enough is enough—Time’s Up. Some gave impassioned speeches, while others simply wore black, the evening’s chosen color of protest.
An awards show isn’t enough to change the very backbone of American culture and industry, one supported by a longstanding imbalance of power that keeps wealthy, white men in power, and all but ensures that women, people of color, and especially those without resources, fame, or access to either will suffer in silence. But as we have seen by the #MeToo movement, there is power in speaking up and joining a cause. One person’s bravery can inspire millions to take notice of a problem that has been hiding in plain sight. While there was a sting of hypocrisy watching entertainers attempt to claim victory in shifting Hollywood’s oppressive ways in the very ballroom that made Harvey Weinstein a damn-near-untouchable, there were signs of progress, and even a few feminist moments.
The red carpet turns black.
Usually a parade of bright colors and daring fashion choices—and a few wardrobe malfunctions—last night’s red carpet parade presented a distinctly different vibe. Nearly every body on that thoroughfare was dressed head to toe in black—from the production assistants running errands to Oscar winners walking arm-in-arm with social justice leaders. The women behind the Time’s Up campaign, an initiative created by 300 of the entertainment industry’s most powerful women that calls for gender equality and a systemic shift in how harassment is addressed and reinforced in Hollywood and blue-collar industries, called on Globes attendees to wear the cryptic color as a sign of solidarity with victims. The commitment by so many to wear black proved to be a visual protest stronger than the wave of pink pussy hats that descended on the nation on January 21 last year. Because this time, men were a part of the visual, and the conversation. Denzel Washington summed it up when he told NBC, “It’s important to follow through. So that takes all of our effort and the real movement, and real change of not just laws, but rules of behavior.”
Who are you wearing? Who cares?
Entertainment reporters mostly abandoned their standard lines of questioning around designer names and the number of jewels adorning stars, and instead asked the rich and famous a question they’re not asked enough: What do you stand for? Emma Watson, who was one of many celebrities who brought feminist and social-justice leaders with them to the awards, told Variety that she, too, is a victim of harassment, and that she’s not surprised by the stories that have swarmed the press. “This issue is so systemic, so structural,” she said. “You realize if you speak to most women, they have an experience, they have a story, and we’re just scratching the surface of this, which is really crazy.”
Debra Messing, who was the first actress interviewed by E!, came out swinging. Citing her support of the whistleblowers sharing their stories, and bringing up the issue of pay inequality to the network that recently made headlines for its despicable gender-wage gap. She specifically called out the situation of Catt Sadler, who left the network in December after discovering that she made less than half the salary of her male counterpart, Jason Kennedy. “I was shocked to hear that E! doesn’t believe in paying their female co-hosts the same as their male co-hosts,” she told a stunned-silent Giuliana Rancic. “And that’s something that can change tomorrow. We want people to start having this conversation that women are just as valuable as men.”
Black-ish Star Tracee Ellis Ross connected the dots between the current conversation around sexual harassment and the racial oppression that has plagued the industry—and the country—for decades. Talking to Entertainment Tonight, she raised a fist in the air and said, “Time’s up on a lot of things.”
No time for jokes.
It was clear from the moment that host Seth Meyers began his opening monologue with, “Good evening ladies, and remaining gentlemen,” that the tone of the awards would be a bit more serious. Standard gags such as poking fun at nominated stars and spoofy sketches were ditched for self-aware commentary about inequality in the industry. Meyers didn’t shy away from calling out the primary perpetrators of the industry’s harassment problem: white men like him, name-checking Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Woody Allen. And even though Meyers didn’t say his name, there was a clear reference to Donald Trump. For jokes that pointed out sexism, racism, and homophobia, Meyers handed off the microphone to actors who represented those marginalized communities. And his closing gave credit where credit is due: “Everyone had to work hard to get here but it’s clear the women had to work even harder … I look forward to you leading us into what comes next.”
Speeches named names and called for a reckoning.
While many of the night’s acceptance speeches skipped political commentary altogether and went straight for the laundry list of thank-yous, some took the opportunity to use the spotlight to reinforce the reasons behind the black outfits and “Time’s Up” buttons. Nicole Kidman won the first award of the night, and immediately cheered on her female co-stars and producing partner Reese Witherspoon, who fought tirelessly to bring Big Little Lies, a book about abuse and female solidarity to the small screen. Her Best Actress in a miniseries or TV movie award was especially resonant for the moment, as she’d played a woman enduring domestic violence. “I believe and I hope we can elicit change through the stories we tell and the way we tell them,” she said. “Let’s keep the conversation alive.”
Laura Dern, who also won an award for her role in Big Little Lies, stressed the importance of listening to our fears. Her character, a woman who seems full of rage and resentment toward just about everyone is really just “a terrified mother, terrified because her little girl was being abused and bullied and she was too afraid to speak up.” Dern then urged the room, the industry, the world, to keep talking. “Many of us were taught not to tattle. It was a culture of silencing and that was normalized. I urge all of us to not only support survivors and bystanders who are brave enough to tell their truth, but to promote restorative justice.”
Dern reminded all who were watching that listening and supporting isn’t enough. Creating a support system that allows victims to survive and earn a living is just as critical as believing their stories. “May we also protect and employ them. May we teach our children that speaking out without the fear of retribution is our culture’s new North Star.”
Some of the night’s feminist statements were more subtle than others. Elisabeth Moss, in accepting her award for Best Actress in a drama series, quoted Margaret Atwood and thanked artists and activists for bringing stories of injustice to light. Natalie Portman gave a supreme dig when announcing the Best Director category with, “And here are the all-male nominees.” Helen Mirren and Viola Davis presented together, representing women of a certain age in Hollywood, a demographic often pushed out of the industry altogether, proving that talent doesn’t bleed out after menopause. Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon reunited 19 years after Thelma & Louise to reassure us that we need not drive off a cliff to escape sexism, but can and should do the work right where we stand. Barbra Streisand evoked the night’s catchphrase when pointing out that it’s been 34 years since she became the first and only woman to win a Golden Globe for best director. “We need more women directors and more women to be nominated for best director… Folks, time’s up!”
Frances McDormand, who won Best Actress in a drama for her role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a film that is largely about how female victims of violence aren’t valued, admitted that she keeps her politics private, but offered a strong statement all the same: “Trust me, the women in this room tonight are not here for the food. We’re here for the work.”
The crescendo of the evening, of course, was Oprah. Accepting her Cecil B. DeMille award—the first Black woman to ever receive one—she did what only Oprah can do. She made us laugh, cry, think hard about our life choices, and finally, fill up with so much inspiration that somehow, a feeling of hope managed to overshadow the dread in our hearts—if even just for a moment.
She opened by honoring her mother, a domestic worker, who if she had complaints or stories of harassment to tell never could have had the opportunity to do so. She called out to little girls watching at home, especially those who for the first time could see themselves reflected in the night’s most distinguished honoree. She recounted the story of the late Recy Taylor, who passed away last week at 97, and who, as a 24-year-old Black sharecropper in Jim Crow-era Alabama, was abducted and raped by six white men—who were never indicted. Winfrey validated and defended the press, calling it an essential freedom that protects us from injustice and tyrants (she didn’t say which tyrants, but the inference was clear). She pointed to women victims as her inspiration for change, speaking of blue-collar workers and academics, politicians and soldiers, and every voice that has come forward this year to tell their story of harassment and abuse at the hands of “brutally powerful men.”
“For too long women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up.” And with Oprah emphasis, she repeated, “Their time is up. Their time is uuuup!”
“So, I want all the little girls watching here now to know that a new day is on the horizon. And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women… and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say ‘me too’ again.”
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