(The cast of “Big Little Lies” accepting their Golden Globe. Photo credit: Hollywood Foreign Press/NBC)
The Golden Globes took me on a journey this year. To be honest, I wish I wasn’t on a good 50 percent of that journey. But the parts that I stuck around for were worth it.
For instance, let’s take the theme of the night—TIME’S UP. With the Golden Globes red carpet and subsequent awards show, the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment against women in the workforce has been put in the spotlight at such a large scale that it seems virtually impossible for the industry to walk back on it or turn its face away from it. The TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, spearheaded by over 300 women in entertainment, is now part of the fabric of Hollywood and will only get stronger year by year.
It goes without saying that the initiative’s birth comes from the sheer amount of women in Hollywood who shared their heartbreaking stories of harassment and abuse at the hands of producers, directors, and other Hollywood male elite. But, what also helped the initiative take shape was a message of solidarity from the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (the National Farmworker Women’s Alliance), an organization that combats the harassment female farmworkers face. As TIME’S UP’s website states, the fund partners “with leading advocates for equality and safety to improve laws, employment agreements, and corporate policies; help change the face of corporate boardrooms and the C-suite; and enable more women and men to access our legal system to hold wrongdoers accountable.” In short, the initiative hopes to help all women be protected against abuse and inequitable power structures.
The solidarity between the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas and TIME’S UP is why so many actresses brought WOC activists as their plus ones Sunday. The goal was to advocate for intersectional feminist politics and uplifting female voices and women-led organizations. The eight activists that joined Michelle Williams, Emma Watson, Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley, Amy Poehler and Emma Stone were:
Tarana Burke, #MeToo movement founder and activist
Marai Larasi, Executive Director of UK-based black feminist organization Imkaan
Rosa Clemente, Afro-Latinx activist, community organizer and political commenator
Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and co-director of Caring Across Generations
Mónica Ramírez, Co-Founder of the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas
Calina Lawrence, Indigenous musician/activist
Billie Jean King, legendary tennis star and activist
Saru Jayaraman, Co-Founder/Co-Director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United) and Director of the Food Labor Research Center at University of California, Berkeley.
Their joint statement sheds more light on why they chose the Golden Globes red carpet as the avenue to steer the conversation from one of outrage to one of action.
“As longtime organizers, activists and advocates for racial and gender justice, it gives us enormous pride to stand with the members of the TIMES UP campaign who have stood up and spoken out in this groundbreaking historical moment. We have each dedicated our lives to doing work that supports the least visible, most marginalized women in our diverse contexts. We do this work as participants in movements that seek to affirm the dignity and humanity of every person.
“Too much of the recent press attention has been focused on perpetrators and does not adequately address the systematic nature of violence including the importance of race, ethnicity and economic status in sexual violence and other forms of violence against women. Our goal in attending the Golden Globes is to shift the focus back to survivors and on systemic, lasting solutions. Each of us will be highlighting legislative, community-level and interpersonal solutions that contribute to ending violence against women in all our communities. It is our hope that in doing so, we will also help to broaden conversations about the connection to power, privilege and other systemic inequalities.”
After reading more about these women and how they utilized the red carpet as their battleground, I feel like a butt for initially thinking the act of actresses bringing these women was one of performative wokeness. Without any knowledge behind the women’s goal, it certainly has all of the appearances of a selfish act by Hollywood elite to gain brownie points and good press. Without knowing anything about the event, you could easily think the women were being tokenized. It’s easy to believe the worst of Hollywood, even at times like these.
But in this case, the opposite is true; the women involved, women who do such important work, weren’t being used, which was my fear (if you go on Twitter, you can read my misgivings and see-sawing from point to point). I was extremely protective of how these women were being perceived by Hollywood. I’m glad to feel like I was being protective for no reason. And whether or not you believe there’s still some tokenism or lack of agency happening, there is still the silver lining that the exposure opened us viewers up to just eight of the many women who do the hard work without much recognition. They do they work because it is their true calling. It’s only right that they become just popular and recognizable, if not more so, as the actresses who partnered with them.
Even when I muddled through my concerns while watching the red carpet, I was positively surprised and heartened to hear how many actresses were ready to talk about issues affecting all women, including taking E! to task—while being interviewed by E!—for their pay gap.
Where the night fell apart was how men were largely let off the hook about speaking up for women’s rights. All they really had to do was wear a “TIME’S UP” pin and a black tuxedo and smile. The actual awards show also didn’t help matters, between snubbing Dee Rees and Greta Gerwig in the Best Director category (as Natalie Portman so poignantly said, only men were nominated), snubbing Mudbound as a Best Picture contender, blocking Get Out from its expected win by putting it in the Comedy/Musical category, and awarding Kirk Douglas, James Franco, and Gary Oldman, all of whom have checkered pasts and allegations of abuse, harassment or sexual assault.
But I was brought back by Oprah Winfrey’s rousing speech. I’ll be honest and say that Oprah had fallen off my radar in the past few years; I still watched OWN from time to time, and I still loved my memories of watching The Oprah Winfrey Show. But as for Oprah herself—I thought she’d gone extremely Hollywood. I thought she’d forgotten who she was before she became the New Age guru she is now. Sometimes, the rich begin to forget the hardships of others, and I’d sadly lumped Oprah in with that group, since it’s a luxury to be able to ponder life’s issues inn a comfy chair in the woods.
But Oprah rightfully schooled me, and everyone else in the Golden Globes audience. She gave everyone an education on what they should prioritize in this fight for equality; it’s not about what we wear or don’t wear, and it’s not about how well we speak or how much money we have. What matters is if we use the platforms we have, big or small, to speak out against bigotry, xenophobia, sexism, harassment and abuse. We need to always lift up those like Recy Taylor who never got the justice they deserved. We need to learn and re-learn our American history, so we don’t go through life not giving women like Rosa Parks, an NAACP investigator (not just a tired seamstress, as we’ve always been taught) their full due.
On a personal level, Oprah also reminded me why I got into this representation game in the first place. Too often, many of us lose our way and forget why we were called to do the things we do in the first place. I started blogging about representation in the media years ago after I realized there was a lot more I could say about film and TV than just who is cast in the new thing. There was an entire market not being addressed, and I felt I had the background and talent to address that market with intelligence and humility. However, the world of social media can make you believe that developing a cult of personality is more important than writing a meaningful post. It can make you think your work doesn’t matter because you might not be as loud or as brash or as excitedly opinionated as others. What Oprah did was inspire me the way she did when I was a child. I remembered why I write about film and TV—it’s because my voice is needed. It’s because all of our voices are needed, not just my own. We all should be able to voice our truths about our lives and experiences and lift each other up, finding commonalities in our stories and areas where we can increase our learning. In a way, Oprah did what she’s always done, including when she holds her conversations in the woods—she’s asking us to showcase vulnerable and relatable humanity to each other.
With that said, it’s kinda ridiculous that reactions to her speech has now devolved into a shouting match on Twitter about whether or not she’s qualified to run for President. Sure, I’d like a politician to run for President, but it’s not as if Oprah’s another Trump—she’s highly intelligent, she’s a humanitarian, and she understands what’s at stake with American politics and society. If Trump’s qualified to run and win, anyone’s qualified to run now. And if that means Oprah’s got a chance, then so be it. I mean, if there’s no one else running against Trump, who else are we going to vote for? There are bigger and more meaningful hills to die on than if Oprah wins the Presidency. (By the way: I didn’t see this much outrage when Dwayne Johnson said he was mulling over a presidential candidacy.) The Twittersphere going H.A.M. over Oprah’s hypothetical candidacy has left a bad taste in my mouth for sure, and it’s definitely indicative of how Twitter as a whole can miss the point of a poignant moment.
I’ll end with this: The Golden Globes were the worst and best of times. Some things happened that were deeply questionable, and other things happened that seemed sketchy at first but turned out to be fantastic. In the end, Oprah cut through the muck and proved to be the guiding light of the evening, and looking with hindsight, none of us should have been surprised at that outcome.♦
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