Identity

The Unsettling Spectacle of Addressing Abuse at Hollywood's 'Party of the Year'

"We have a lot to talk about," read a tagline for this year's Golden Globes. But most men in attendance didn't get the memo—and certain alleged abusers weren't discussed at all.

by Callie Beusman
Jan 9 2018, 6:18pm

Photo by Handout via Getty Images

In the promotional video for this year’s Golden Globes, Seth Meyers is smiling wryly, looking slightly pained. “We have,” he intones, “a lot to talk about.” The implication is clear, but it’s also startlingly brief, quickly subsumed by the cheerful blaring of a saxophone, then followed by a dulcet voice-over: “It’s the party of the year… with all the stars… on one special night!”

I first saw this promo about a week ago. It was less than a month after Entertainment Weekly reported that actresses would be wearing black as a symbol of protest against harassment and a few days after the announcement of the ambitious Time’s Up initiative, which saw several powerful women in the entertainment industry teaming up to tackle workplace harassment across all industries. “We have a lot to talk about” felt like a weird thing to say, and an especially weird thing to follow with a jubilant woodwind instrumental, but it was hard to think of a less-weird way to frame things: the first big, post-Weinstein Hollywood event, where everyone has to reckon with widespread sexism, discrimination, and abuse, but in a way that’s watchable and conveys aspirational luxury.

I mean, Seth Meyers was right: We did have a lot to talk about at the Golden Globes, even if that meant doing so on the red carpet, a space that’s notoriously resistant to meaningful discourse. For years, women in the entertainment industry have demanded to be asked more consequential red-carpet questions than “Who are you wearing?” with mixed results. The all-black dress code made it sort of a moot point, as outfit choice had become an inherently political statement, albeit one that was easy to phone in and often unsettlingly glamorous. (On Instagram, Kendall Jenner declared her support for the Time’s Up campaign: “I too stand with all women,” she wrote beneath a photo of herself in an elaborate black dress; her next post, which showed her enthusiastically posing on the red carpet, said merely, “@giambattistavalliparis haute couture making me feel like a princess,” followed by a heart emoji—black, of course.)

Unsurprisingly, E!’s typically breathless red carpet coverage buckled under the burden of sustained self-examination. Ryan Seacrest stumbled over the word “solidarity” twice. When Eva Longoria, among others, brought up reports of the egregious gender pay gap at the network—former anchor Catt Sadler left E! News in December after learning her male coworker made nearly twice her salary—Seacrest seemed caught off guard. “We love Catt, we love her,” he said, lamely, in response.

Several actresses brought along activists as their plus-ones and ceded their interview time to them, though the format of “red carpet interview,” which is breezy and intensely visual by design, felt ill-suited at best and insulting at worst. Most notably: During a rushed interview with Seacrest, activist and #MeToo originator Tarana Burke was relegated to a corner of the screen. “This moment is so powerful because we’re seeing… a collaboration between these two worlds that people don’t usually put together and would most likely have us pitted against each other,” she said, from within a picture-in-picture, while a shot of Dakota Johnson filled the bulk of the screen. As Burke spoke, the camera slowly panned up Johnson’s body—a disconcerting red carpet practice that became slightly notorious after Cate Blanchett criticized it at the 2014 Oscars, stooping down to meet E!’s “GlamCam” halfway and inquiring, “Do you do that to the guys?”

This year, instead of “See All the Looks From the Golden Globes,” we had “All the Celebrities Who Work Black at the Golden Globes to Protest,” and instead of a Worst Dressed List, we had several iterations of “Here’s who didn’t wear black to the Golden Globes.”

The change in coverage tone was sudden and disorienting, and entertainment and fashion reporters had to radically rethink the red carpet in light of it. The New York Times opted to cover it as more of a news event than a fashion one, sending a Pulitzer-winning photographer to “capture the realities and personalities,” and New York magazine’s The Cut decided to forego its usual ranking of red carpet looks altogether. (“How do you rank the clothes at a funeral? You don’t,” The Cut’s editor-in-chief Stella Bugbee told Women’s Wear Daily.)

For many outlets, the time-honored question of who had dressed most poorly was totally off the table—though red carpet criticism is surprisingly mutable, even in the age of the self-consciously woke Golden Globes. This year, instead of “See All the Looks From the Golden Globes,” we had “All the Celebrities Who Work Black at the Golden Globes to Protest,” and instead of a Worst Dressed List, we had several iterations of “Here’s who didn’t wear black to the Golden Globes.” The latter list contains just three women, two of whom released statements explaining themselves; as far as I can tell, none of the men who chose to wear a white shirt under their tuxedo were similarly grilled.

This sort of furious scrutiny brings to mind the weird promo video for the event, which I think quite succinctly distills the night’s mission. But what interests me so much isn’t the vague “a lot to talk about,” but rather the sense of obligation—the idea of having to talk. Though some critics were initially quick to lambast the idea of wearing all black as a self-indulgent and inutile “silent protest,” the actresses and women activists who attended Sunday’s show endeavored valiantly to get their message across. It’s not their fault that the bizarre, glib machinery of the red carpet interview wasn’t equipped to handle the problem of systemic discrimination and abuse between ushering guests into the 360-degree GlamCam.

As a culture, and, more insularly, as an industry, there was a lot to talk about on Sunday night—but not everyone had to do the talking. Nearly every woman to win an award discussed the present so-called “moment of reckoning” in some way: Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Rachel Broshnahan, and Elisabeth Moss all spoke movingly about ending gender-based harassment and abuse and telling women’s stories honestly and responsibly. Oprah spoke for 10 minutes about racism and sexism and the struggles of working class women—so passionately and powerfully that people literally want her to be president now.

The male award-winners, conversely, were far more reticent about our current cultural moment, though it’s unclear whether they were uninterested, wary of speaking for women, or acting in their own self-interest. James Franco, who has now been accused of sexual harassment by several women on Twitter, expressed his gratitude to a litany of men in his acceptance speech, then thanked his mother… for giving him a brother. Gary Oldman, who was once accused of beating his wife in front of their children and choking her when she tried to call 911, quoted Winston Churchill in his. Both, incredibly, were wearing “Time’s Up” pins. Kirk Douglas, who has been dogged for years by rumors that he violently raped Natalie Wood when she was a teenager, won a lifetime achievement award and received a standing ovation.

And for all that we had to talk about, there was a lot that was studiously avoided—like, for instance, the subject of Woody Allen, who has been accused of sexually assaulting his daughter when she was seven and who openly married his adopted daughter. Before the Globes started, Justin Timberlake, who is in Allen’s newest film, tweeted a photo of himself with the hashtags #TIMESUP and #whywewearblack. In the press room, Greta Gerwig struggled to come up with an answer when she was asked if she regretted working with the director, instead speaking generally about the power of women telling stories on their own terms. And it’s not just Woody Allen: Several luminaries in attendance reportedly signed a 2009 petition demanding that the Swiss government release convicted child rapist Roman Polanski—including Martin Scorsese, Penelope Cruz, and Natalie Portman, who was rapturously lauded for calling out the all-male slate of Best Director nominees when she presented the award on Sunday.

As someone who has never enjoyed being bored, annoyed, and subjected to close-up shots of the Francos for three hours at a time, I normally dislike awards shows. I disliked this one, too, but it did feel palpably different, at least on the surface—there was a sense of both anger and hope. But the question still remains: Now that we’ve agreed that we have a lot to talk about, who will have the privilege of speaking? Who will be allowed to opt out of the conversation, either due to apathy or culpability? And how do we make sure people are actually listening—and, even more crucially, motivated to create a better world instead of engaging in meaningless pageantry?