In the weeks leading up to last night’s Golden Globes, the organized “protest” planned by the actors and creatives set to attend the ceremony seemed halfhearted at best, and at worst, downright stupid. More than 700,000 female farmworkers instigated a laudable, coordinated campaign called Time’s Up to express their solidarity with the women of Hollywood, following scores of revelations of harassment and abuse by some of the industry’s most powerful players. And in response, 300 celebrities who planned to attend the awards said they would wear black, and also, they would wear pins.
For the most part, men already wear black to award shows, and unfortunately, none of them took Jezebel’s Hazel Cills up on her suggestion that they should instead wear jumpsuits with their salaries printed on them. It was hard to see wearing black to the Globes as a promising act of protest, when the more obvious one would have been boycotting the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s sole yearly spectacle altogether. Despite the avalanche of sexual abuse and harassment stories in the industry, journalists from trade publications to The New York Times have done plenty to maintain the power structure and status quo in Hollywood.
Before the ceremony even started, there was reason to be concerned. Justin Timberlake tweeted a selfie with his wife Jessica Biel, focusing on his “Time’s Up” pin, and adding the hashtags “#TIMESUP” and “#whywewearblack,” but apparently forgetting that he just starred in a new Woody Allen movie. Dozens of the celebrities who promised to wear black accessorized with other colors, an annoying departure from a political action that wasn’t so much of an action in the first place.
But host Seth Meyers gave a respectable, focused monologue about industry harassment. There’s nothing ground-shaking about a joke like, “For the male nominees in the room tonight, this is the first time in three months it won’t be terrifying to hear your name read out loud.” But as a minimum, the gags set a tone for the rest of the broadcast, which was filled with acknowledgements of industry abuses, the gender wage gap, and thoughts on diversity and female empowerment.
Nicole Kidman kicked off the evening’s politics when she won for Big Little Lies. Her award acknowledgement was a moving, sincere speech about her friendship with Reese Witherspoon, and the “pact” she signed with the rest of the ensemble cast, promising to tell a true and useful story about domestic violence. It wasn’t exactly stand-up-and-cheer rhetoric, but it went as well as it could. It was only undercut slightly by shots of audience members whose hypocrisy is easy to remember. I, for one, was taken out of the moment by a quick cut to 21st century Woody Allen muse Emma Stone, teary-eyed — just as she was in a recent “I Will Not Be Silent” video made by W Magazine, which also featured 21st century Mel Gibson muse Andrew Garfield.
Amid dozens of vague platitudes about the power of women, there were only a few moments of real political bite during last night’s awards. Natalie Portman, briefly onstage to announce the award for Best Director, delivered a stone-eyed improvised line: “Here are the all-male nominees.” (That elicited a real gasp from the audience — who honestly need to recalibrate their gasp metric.) With one line, she undercut the illusion of the awards. It was largely a positive, in-jokey night, where everyone preached equality, mocked figures like Harvey Weinstein, and celebrated an end to a toxic culture, all while refusing to acknowledge the directorial skills of Greta Gerwig, whose debut feature Lady Bird won Best Musical or Comedy. Time’s not exactly up for male dominance in Hollywood if we’re still playing along with an awards show that has nominated three female directors in the last 20 years.
It was also challenging to watch Martin McDonagh’s watery “compassion for racists, jokes about dwarves” fable Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri scoop up award after award, while paradigm-shaking films like Get Out and Call Me By Your Name went home empty-handed. It was hard not to wish — amid all the sincerity, thanks-giving, and promises to help fix things — that there had been a little more anger. A little more of that flash in Natalie Portman’s eyes before handing an award to a man whose work was fantastic, but ultimately, wasn’t even expected to compete fairly with a woman’s.
Then there was the salve: Oprah Winfrey’s acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award, which skated easily between gratitude and resentment, optimism and doubt, her standard get-up-and-get-it inspirational rhetoric, and some heady acknowledgment that we still live in a world where there’s more to success than the will to succeed. She talked about sitting on a linoleum floor in Milwaukee in 1964, watching Sidney Poitier become the first black man to win an Oscar for Best Actor, and though she was expressing gratitude for his work and appreciation for that moment of elation, she was also talking about anger: “I have tried many, many, many times to explain what a moment like that means to a little girl, a kid watching from the cheap seats as my mom came through the door, bone-tired from cleaning other people’s houses.”
She said “thank you” for the award, but she also said, “It is not lost on me that at this moment, there are some little girls watching as I become the first black woman to be given this same award.” And she went on to acknowledge women from industries that don’t get glitzy award shows, public honors, or the same level of nationwide outrage when they’re abused or overlooked. Toward the end of her speech, Winfrey told the story of civil rights activist Recy Taylor, laying out the hideousness of what happened to her in plain speech that would normally have no place at an awards show. Against all odds, and amid a mess of hypocrisy, that was a gritty, impossible-to-ignore expression of anger and intent.
“She lived as we all have lived,” she said. “Too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men.”