It began with a dignified red carpet—well, as dignified as those things possibly get—and continued through to host Seth Meyers’s blistering, almost impossibly successful monologue and the overwhelming tenor of the night’s speeches, chief among them Oprah Winfrey’s galvanizing sermon about our current cultural moment.
Hands were wrung with enough friction to ignite another round of California fires over how an award show, particularly one as typically frivolous as the Golden Globes, would play against the surging #MeToo movement and Time’s Up initiative. Those talking points dominated Sunday night’s telecast, to great effect.
For once, it was an award show that didn’t feel like pointless masturbation, celebrating movies you haven’t seen and the expensive gowns worn by the people who made them. It felt like a cultural moment, actually necessary. For the most part, the nearly three-and-a-half hour-long show felt rewarding, too, filled with enough scorching moments to heat up a bleak night and even bleaker time in that industry and our culture.
As a television event, it was entertaining. From his opening welcome to the ballroom’s “ladies and remaining gentlemen” quip to his relentless hammering of Harvey Weinstein, Meyers nailed an opening monologue in near-impossible circumstances.
Should a woman have hosted? Yes. That truth and those circumstances are something Meyers even acknowledged himself: “There’s a new era underway and I can tell because it’s been years since a white man was this nervous in Hollywood. By the way, a special hello to hosts of other upcoming awards shows who are watching me tonight like the first dog they shot into outer space.”
But Meyers was merely the opening act. Winfrey’s speech, be it a presidential stump speech or merely a rousing call to arms, set off fireworks at the end of each sentence, putting on a light show that won’t soon be forgotten, and leaving behind enough lingering smoke to remind us to go out and spring into action.
Many speeches spoke to the crossroads where society now finds itself, especially those from the casts and crews of Big Little Lies and The Handmaid’s Tale, while many presenters carried a torch of exasperation when it comes to abuse and inequality in the industry: Debra Messing calling out E!’s pay inequity hypocrisy on the red carpet, Natalie Portman pointedly introducing the “all-male nominees” for Best Director, or Barbra Streisand’s enough-is-enough reaction to being told she’s the only female Best Director winner in Globes history.
As a political statement, what could have been an awkward night at a time when many are still dismissive of Hollywood speaking on behalf of our entire society, it was arguably powerful, exhibiting a groundswell of support for reform and gender and race equity that could actually explode out of Tinseltown to the rest of America.
As always in Hollywood, there’s a palpable self-satisfaction accompanying the parading of politics and activism at events like these. Hence the problem with Sunday night’s telecast: the danger of treating the night as a victory lap rather than merely the starting gun.
We’d venture that the rocket-launch energy of Winfrey’s speech could carry the mission past the media and the industry’s notoriously short attention span, even recruiting skeptics of “liberal Hollywood” along for the crusade. But what we anticipate to be a very mixed reaction to Sunday night’s telecast—audiences and critics are perennially unforgiving about these shows, let alone one purporting such importance—could prove a handicap to elevating these events, and even the industry, to this higher calling.
On the one hand, there is something commendable about Hollywood, in the throes of a crisis of conscience, employing the only means it knows as a remedy: its own tradition of pageantry and self-congratulation, this time used as a tool for raising awareness and demanding change.
It’s a method that understandably reeks of contradiction to those long exhausted by the selective activism of show business, which has imbued glitz and glamour with politics and social consciousness in fits and starts over the years, only to retreat back to its opulent and navel-gazing old habits in due time. But there’s a hypocrisy, too, in that dismissive attitude: bemoaning a tone-deaf, removed, and narcissistic community, but then also scoffing at its members any time they do become aware of the power of their platform and use it for activism.
Therein lies the impossible position the industry faces. The pomp and circumstance surrounding Time’s Up, the black dresses, and the #MeToo movement at the Golden Globes is still set against a backdrop of popping champagne bottles, award speeches, and Harry Winston diamonds. It’s only the first leg of a long course that will require nimble navigation, improvisation, patience, and resilience at every setback in order to weather successfully.
Easing the journey is the fact the Globes picked largely worthy winners that, despite gross oversights like failing to nominate a single female director, also support the discourse of its cause.
Complaining about a snub at the Golden Globes, the most historically nonsensical of awards bodies, is like complaining when McDonald’s gets your order wrong. But it’s worthwhile to cheer at the glut of winners this year that champion female stories and, though to a lesser effect, diverse voices: winners like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the aforementioned Big Little Lies and The Handmaid’s Tale, Lady Bird, the admittedly polarizing Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and actors like Sterling K. Brown and Aziz Ansari.
All things considered, Sunday night’s telecast, as a television event, is still competing on an even playing field with other, pre-#MeToo award shows. These things are still endless, still suffer from stilted presenter banter, and still reward entertainment you might not have seen.
That said, what better arena to address the power imbalances that lead to abuse than, for better and worse, one of the most powerful and visible industries in the world?
For all the powerful words spoken at the Golden Globes Sunday night, be it by Oprah Winfrey or Frances McDormand or what have you, it was actually something said on the red carpet that stuck with me most.
Emma Watson, one of the A-listers who brought important activists as their Globes dates, walked the carpet with Marai Larasi, the co-chair of the End Violence Against Women Coalition. Larasi explained better than anyone else why all of the hullabaloo about black dresses, actresses wearing pins, and lightning rod speeches matter.
“There’s something about women in Hollywood speaking out,” she said. “There is a wall of silence that surrounds violence against women and girls. And every time a woman speaks out, it makes a bit of a crack in that wall. We don’t want to create a hierarchy, where we’re saying women of Hollywood are more important than other women. But we’re saying that women of Hollywood have an opportunity to amplify the issues and shine a light on things, and that’s incredibly important.”