So, how did Hollywood handle the first awards show of the post-Weinstein era?
You could say much of the night was business as usual. The attire wasn’t exactly game-changing stuff. After all, those black gowns were still designer, not that anyone talked about that much on the red carpet. It’s nowhere near earth-shattering for celebrities to sport pins supporting the cause of the minute.
But from the top of host Seth Meyer’s monologue — “Good evening, ladies and remaining gentlemen” — it felt like something really had flipped. It wasn’t just the performative allyship of pins and black clothes, or the gesture by a handful of actresses to bring as their guests activists from the fields that Time’s Up, the formal Hollywood initiative to combat sexual harassment and assault within and outside the entertainment industry, plans to support.
It is stunning, though it has already become ordinary, that stories about sexual predation have so dominated the headlines in the past three months that this topic could almost totally eclipse all other news as fodder for Golden Globes jokes and acceptance speeches. These are competitive times in the headline-dominance arena! We haven’t had a slow news week in a year and a half.
At this year’s Golden Globes, women got to do what men always do everywhere: They took up space. They talked about themselves, speaking at length about their feelings and passions and relationships with each other. Their speeches were rarely cut short.
They made jokes at the expense of men, in front of and alongside men, with a gleeful, deal-with-it air. Quips about unequal pay and ingrained industry sexism were more cutting than ever, with a serrated edge. (Natalie Portman, co-presenting best director, cool as can be: “And here are the all-male nominees.”) The marquee piece of the night was delivered by Oprah, whose rousing, rhetoric-to-the-rafters speech as she became the first black woman to receive the Cecil B. DeMille award gave hope to her most ardent supporters that she may be mulling a run for the White House.
As for men, they moved through the night with an air of deference. They seemed to bow their heads like bridesmaids, readily acknowledging that even when they won, the night was adamantly Not About Them. On the red carpet, the male dates of female stars waited their turns to talk. Their acceptance speeches were regularly interrupted with that wrap-it-up music. Those who did speak about Time’s Up and sexual harassment seemed to do so with considerable care, perhaps concerned (rightly) that their speeches, if found inadequate or worse, would be picked apart by the masses in the morning.
In his monologue, Meyers gamely acknowledged that as a white man he was maybe not the best guy for this hosting job just now. But for what it’s worth, even though he was a head writer for Saturday Night Live for 13 years and now helms his own late night show, he swore he was “a man with absolutely no power in Hollywood” — imposter syndrome and an apology, and the show had only just begun! — before sharing the mic with the likes of Jessica Chastain, Amy Poehler, and Issa Rae to tell the jokes he, a straight white man, could not.
It wasn’t just the solidarity of women but the stories of women that dominated the night. And though it might all feel sort of fitting and predictable considering the cultural mood, remember that it is often stories about men and stereotypically masculine pursuits — fighting wars and/or bears, doing Wall Street things, repressing emotions in Boston — that garner serious awards attention, while stories about women get overlooked. Consider this data point: There is very little overlap between best actress nominees and best picture nominees in any given year at the Oscars, and considerable overlap between best actor and best picture. Movies that give women the meatiest roles are, surely by total coincidence and not because of systemic misogyny, simply considered not as good as movies that revolve around men.
In that light, it is remarkable that so many of the biggest winners Sunday night were movies and shows that centered women. A number of multiple-award-winners zeroed in on stories of rape victims, their families, and their communities with nuance, gravity, humor, and empathy — they did not just include graphic rape scenes for kicks. (Hey Game of Thrones, how’ve you been?) Other notable prizes went to stories about women and girls in roles that are frequently mocked or dismissed: the put-upon mom, the moody teenager, the jilted housewife. But in these narratives, they were afforded the depth and screen time regularly granted their male counterparts.
Big victories abounded for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a film about a woman who, consumed with rage after her daughter is violently raped and murdered, buys up those billboards to force the public and the police to address the unsolved crime. In the drama category, it took best motion picture, best actress (Frances McDormand), best supporting actor (Sam Rockwell), and best screenplay. Lady Bird is a mother-daughter love story that is really just about the basically-ordinary travails of a teenage girl: itching to outgrow a longtime friend for a cooler girl; dating and losing her virginity to some not-quite-right boyfriends; yearning to get away from her hometown and her parents. Not exactly the stuff awards-bait is made of, and yet it, too, won a top honor (best motion picture – comedy) and a trophy for its star, Saoirse Ronan.
On television, Big Little Lies continued its sweep from last fall’s Emmys, claiming best limited series (even though it’s not actually limited anymore). Nicole Kidman won for her portrayal of a woman who, through excruciating-but-necessary sessions with a female therapist and alongside a phalanx of girlfriends, triumphs over her abusive husband. As a bookend to that win, Alexander Skarsgard later won for playing that abusive husband. Wins for The Handmaid’s Tale, which back at the Emmy’s in September felt very on-theme for this Make America Gilead Again presidency, bore yet another layer of timely significance Sunday night as a series about sexual violence as a weapon of oppression. The Hulu smash won best TV series – drama; its star, Elisabeth Moss, snagged best actress. And Amy Sherman Palladino’s delicious, uber-feminine comedy for Amazon, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, won both of those categories — best series and best actress (Rachel Brosnahan) — in comedy.
And then there was Oprah. What is there to say about Oprah? Her name, as presenter Reese Witherspoon gushed, is “a verb, an adjective, and a feeling.” Only Oprah could take the audience from a transformative moment in her girlhood watching Sidney Poitier win an Oscar on television, to the fact that sexual violence affects everyone from domestic and farm workers to soldiers and Olympians, to the soul-rattling story of Recy Taylor, a black woman who, in 1944, was kidnapped and raped by six white men and sought justice with the aid of NAACP lawyer Rosa Parks. Taylor’s assailants were never prosecuted; she died ten days before Oprah took this stage.
“She lived, as we have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men,” Oprah said. “For too long women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up.”
The camera cut to reaction shots around the room. Angelina Jolie, who was among the earliest actresses to go public with sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein, watched with a palpable sense of purpose. Viola Davis, who spoke on the red carpet just hours before about how, as a sexual assault survivor, her message for other women who have lived through the same horror is “You’re born being worthy,” raised her hands to the sky. A standing ovation was a given.