Golden Globes: Feminism, Empowerment Subtly Steal the Spotlight

Michelle Williams - 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards - NBC Publicity-H 2019
Paul Drinkwater/NBC

Michelle Williams' powerful speech — which encouraged women to vote in their own self interest, something she said "men have been doing for years" — couldn't atone for the lack of female nominees in top categories, but it emerged as one of this year's most memorable moments.

In a year when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association failed to nominate even one woman in the directing and screenwriting categories, gender equality — or the 2020 Golden Globes Awards' lack thereof — was, at the very least, expected to be the subject of a speech or two. However, the only mention of the exclusion came from host Ricky Gervais in the form of a paltry joke.

"A lot of controversy over our next category: no female directors were nominated this year. That's bad." the comedian said while introducing the presenters for the category. "I’ve had a word with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and they've guaranteed this will never happen again. Working with all the major studios, [the HFPA has] agreed to go back to the way things were when they didn’t even hire women directors. That will solve the problem. You’re welcome."

Although zero presenters or winners followed in Natalie Portman's footsteps by calling out the HFPA as she once did — "And here are the all male nominees," the actress said while presenting the Globe for best director in 2018 — one of the evening's most powerful moments was one that championed women, courtesy of Michelle Williams.

It came during her acceptance speech for best actress in a limited series or television movie, which she began by thanking the HFPA and the team behind Fosse/Verdon

"When you put this in someone's hands, you're acknowledging the choices that they make as an actor. Moment by moment, scene by scene, day by day," she started. "But you're also acknowledging the choices they make as a person. The education they pursue, the training they sought, the hours they put in.

"I'm grateful for the acknowledgement of the choices I've made and also grateful to have lived at a moment in our society where choice exists, because as women and as girls things can happen to our bodies that are not our choice," Williams continued. "I've tried my very best to live a life of my own making and not just a series of events that happened to me, but one that I could stand back and look at and recognize my handwriting all over — sometimes messy and scrawling, sometimes careful and precise, but one that I have carved with my own hand.

"And I wouldn't have been able to do this without employing a woman's right to choose," she added, drawing enthusiastic applause. "To choose when to have my children and with whom; when I felt supported and able to balance our lives, knowing as all mothers know that the scales must and will tick toward our children."

Williams was seemingly referencing reports that she's not only engaged to director Thomas Kail, but that they're also expecting their first child together. She also has a daughter, Matilda, with the late Heath Ledger.

She continued, "Now, I know I know my choices might look different than yours, but thank god or whomever you pray to that we live in a country founded on the principle that I am free to live by my faith and you are free to live by yours."

Williams concluded the empowering speech with a plea to women, saying, "So, women from 18 to 118, when it is time to vote, please do so in your own self interest. It's what men have been doing for years...which is why the world looks so much like them. But don't forget, we are the largest voting body in this country. Let's make it look more like us."

Williams' BFF Busy Philipps, along with Margot Robbie, Kate McKinnon and much of the room — including Tiffany Haddish, who yelled "Preach!" — were visibly moved by Williams' remarks.

Social media also erupted with supportive and appreciative messages, some of which came from Williams' fellow actresses.

The compelling moment certainly didn't make up for the exclusion of women from two of the Golden Globes' top categories, but it seemed to be a welcome reminder of the power of women.

This year's snubs came as a surprise to many, especially considering that the number of top-grossing films from female directors reached a 13-year high in 2019, according to a recent USC Annenberg study. Greta Gerwig for Little WomenLulu Wang for The Farewell, Lorene Scafaria for Hustlers, Marielle Heller for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and Olivia Wilde for Booksmart were just some of the female directors who could have been nominated.

Ultimately, the honor was bestowed upon 1917's Sam Mendes, The Irishman's Martin Scorsese, Joker's Todd Phillips, Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood's Quentin Tarantino and Parasite's Bong Joon-ho, with Tarantino emerging victorious.

The year after Portman went off-script in 2018 — 2019 — wasn't any different. In fact, the Globes' best director category hasn't seen a single female nominee since 2015. That honor went to Ava DuVernay for Selma, making her one of seven women to ever receive a directing nod from the HFPA. Out of those seven, Barbra Streisand was the only one to go on to win. 

See the full list of winners from the 77th annual Golden Globes, which aired on NBC with host Ricky Gervais, here.

The Golden Globe Awards ceremony is produced by Dick Clark Productions, which shares a parent company with The Hollywood Reporter.