ACTIVISM OR PAGEANTRY?
Hollywood Stands Up for #MeToo on Red Carpets. #BlackLivesMatter Deserves the Same.
Actresses will wear all black to the Golden Globes in protest of industry misconduct. This is admirable, and necessary. But where was this courage when other movements needed it?
Last year there was a perceptible backlash against award shows for being too political, be it the groaning over Meryl Streep’s charged—if polarizing—Golden Globes speech condemning the newly elected president, or the anti-Trump rhetoric of Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue at the Oscars.
This year, however, the question isn’t whether awards shows will be too political, but just how political they will be—and already there seems to be a palpable desire to make them as political as possible.
That the extermination of sexual predators infesting Hollywood would affect awards season was obvious.
Films are removing predators’ names from the credits as weak antidotes to their poison (a la Wind River, which Harvey Weinstein co-produced), or being shelved because of allegations against their creator (a la Louis C.K.’s I Love You, Daddy). One has reshot an entire role because of the newly tarnished name of its star—Kevin Spacey being swapped out for Christopher Plummer in All the Money in World—and some precursor nominations are already rewarding cinematic calls to action and the artists making them, as evidenced by the support for the journalism superhero flick The Post.
But now that awards season is in full swing, the industry’s plans to react to the #MeToo movement is transitioning from behind the scenes to in front of the camera, and even to the red carpet.
On Wednesday, it was announced that this year’s Screen Actors Guild Awards telecast will invite only women to present, as a “unifying salute to women who have been very brave in speaking up,” according the show’s executive producer. Then on Thursday, People reported that many major actresses are planning to wear black to the Golden Globes as a symbol of protest against harassment in Hollywood—a gesture that could extend throughout awards season.
There’s power in statements like these wherever they are made, and there are few venues as public and widely dissected as an award show’s red carpet. Any armchair psychologist can tell you there is power and resonance in what you see on screen, in fashion magazines, and in the news. Visibility matters, especially when it’s as pointed as this.
There is also, however, a certain pageantry to this activism.
In response to both the SAG announcement and the Globes report came a beleaguered sigh—the rah-rah equivalent of a golf clap—that such a public display of solidarity and pursuit of change is taking place in response to the recent spate of sexual misconduct controversies, but was absent even just last year during the “too political” season, when the same support could have and should have been shown for the Black Lives Matter movement.
It reflects an undercurrent of the entire reckoning taking place in the industry, which is the erasure of decades of systemic and institutionalized abuse and silencing of people of color. It took famous white women to bring issues of sexual misconduct to the public’s attention, when people, especially women of color, have fruitlessly been ringing the warning bell, only to have it fall on deaf ears.
Given that we should hardly express surprise over Hollywood’s selective activism, these admirable gestures might just be an appetizer for the feast of anger it plans to serve the industry as awards season continues.
As we’ve already seen, the flood of harassment and abuse scandals has dominated questioning during press tours over the course of awards campaigns.
It’s not just in the shattering details of the stories that so many women have bravely shared concerning their own experiences in the industry, which would have value regardless of their timing in the height of Hollywood’s busiest season. It’s also in the conversations those confessionals are starting, about how the industry has been failing its participants and needs to enact belated change.
In some cases, the conversation exposes just how embedded the industry’s failings truly are, with seemingly each day revealing another problematic, misguided, or even downright offensive opinion held by an actor or creator. (Today’s turn: Matt Damon.)
But in most cases, the anecdotes—be it sheepish revelations about what was or wasn’t “known,” or the impassioned pleas for reform—reveal just how far there is to go, and the dejecting obstacles still standing in the way.
Jessica Chastain, for example, one of the most celebrated and respected actresses working in Hollywood, recently expressed her surprise that she is still receiving awards attention for her performance in Molly’s Game even though she’s been outspoken in condemning the state of Hollywood.
(On her decision to specifically call out Bryan Singer, who directs one of her upcoming films, she told The Daily Beast, “I do not feel beholden to anything. I’m going to speak my mind about any injustice that I see. I’m not afraid of anything in terms of that. And I think the greatest myth that an industry can create is to make people feel like they’re easily replaceable. I’m not going to allow that into my life.”)
In a recent interview with The New York Times, Chastain said she assumed that, given the industry’s history, speaking out would hurt her career. “As an actor, I have a lot of fear, thinking that if I speak my mind, or something that feels like it deviates from the norm as a woman, am I going to be made to disappear in my industry?”
That’s why these pre-planned award shows gestures might actually be more than symbolic. They are physical, tangible showings of support for women who have spoken out, braving the risk: arms for these women to link with, forming an army that dares the industry to continue its warfare.
It’s needed, too.
Even just this week, after Salma Hayek wrote her gripping New York Times essay detailing the ways Harvey Weinstein harassed, blackmailed, and psychologically tortured her over her career, calling him her “monster,” Weinstein retaliated from whatever bunker it is disgraced creeps go to lurk. He attempted to discredit her and reclaim the success that she finally had the chance to clarify as her own in the piece. Still. After all this, he’s doing that.
Of course, it’s more than the #MeToo movement.
Whatever malaise there was last awards season in the dawn of the Trump administration has festered into a septic outrage over the course of the past year. The last 12 months have been defined by actors rebuking the idea that, as citizens from all walks of life and from all over the country, they should be corralled and discounted as “Hollywood liberal elites.” Instead, they’ve been steadfast in using their public platforms to rally whoever will listen in resistance.
If last year these feelings manifested in a kind of award season group therapy, this year, perhaps we should expect an uprising.