Red Carpet Review: #MeToo Message Mixes Awkwardly With Hollywood Awards Season Chatter
How the media handled, and mishandled, the message.
In the days leading up to this year's Golden Globes — the first major awards show since the #MeToo movement tornadoed Hollywood — media obsession with the planned show of solidarity on the red carpet reached stratospheric levels. As anyone reading this column likely knows, Time's Up, the nascent movement that emerged as a feminist response to the industry's sexual harassment scandals, announced a protest against gender inequality via black dress.
Many were unimpressed. The color struck some as too funereal or too common. (That was exponentially more the case for men, who were already expected to wear black.) Others believed that taking a stand against the objectification of women by inviting more scrutiny of women's bodies and what actresses wear would be counterproductive. A few fretted over the extra work this campaign caused stylists and designers, or worried that an interest in clothes and fashion would be dismissed with too broad a stroke. Like all feminist projects, major and minor, it couldn't please everyone. The debates over whether the blackout was an effective statement became so obsessive, in fact, that they threatened to obscure the reason for the wardrobe coordination in the first place.
And so the women of Hollywood faced another uphill battle.
Hours before the official red carpet coverage was set to begin, though, things looked promising. Amber Tamblyn published a sharp and moving defense of the parade of ebony in The New York Times. Eva Longoria, Natalie Portman and Ava DuVernay helped trend the hashtag #WhyWeWearBlack on social media, explaining their motivations for donning the color on the red carpet. And members of the Time's Up movement clarified that this wasn't just another case of the industry patting itself on the back. It had raised $15 million for a legal defense fund for women in all industries. In contrast to many a Hollywood feminist protest, it was refreshingly free of intersectional myopia. Theoretically, at least, the movement embraced women across race and class lines, within the business and without.
The Golden Globes red carpet showed that the leaders of Time's Up are ready for change — and that many of those lagging behind the vanguard are so far off they're practically lost. Time's Up deserves a standing ovation for tactically and conscientiously organizing a mass demonstration, virtually reimagining what red carpet coverage could be, in a relatively short period of time. The reporters at E! and NBC, on the other hand, seemed completely unaware that the ground beneath Hollywood had shifted profoundly. The world is different now, but they didn't know it.
With the red carpet a sea of black fabric, the lines outside the Beverly Hilton certainly stood out from previous years. But it wasn't just the dress colors that looked different, but the interviews, too. The Time's Up actresses knew that all eyes would be on them, and they prepared accordingly. Eight of them — including Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, Michelle Williams and Emma Watson — brought famed women's rights activists, like #MeToo founder Tarana Burke and MacArthur genius grantee Ai-jen Poo, as their "dates." Women partnered up with other women, like Reese Witherspoon with Eva Longoria, and held each other's hands in front of the camera. They credited each other's work. The only way women could more plainly support other women is if they carried each other on their shoulders.
That fact was perhaps most evident in Debra Messing's and Viola Davis' turns in the spotlight. Despite E!'s grudging and only occasional nods toward the afternoon's reigning theme, Messing set the tone early by articulating the goals that Time's Up is fighting for. She thanked the brave women who have spoken out and insisted that "this is about every woman in every industry, globally." Messing then decried the gender pay gap at E! — an injustice that led to Catt Sadler's departure — while being interviewed by the network's Giuliana Rancic. Later, Dern, Longoria, Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Sarah Jessica Parker also brought up Sadler's "massive" salary disparity vis-à-vis Jason Kennedy. Those A-listers' willingness to stand with Sadler and possibly risk their own good standing with E! didn't just feel like a disruption, but the beginning of a revolution.
Despite the inclusion of famed activists on the red carpet, Time's Up didn't really feel resonant beyond Hollywood during most of the red-carpet coverage. Then Viola Davis arrived. Making the most of her time with NBC's Al Roker, the How to Get Away With Murder star spoke from experience when she delivered the message that survivors of sexual assault need to hear. "There's no prerequisites to worthiness," Davis said. "You're born worthy. … The women who are still in silence because of trauma, shame, due to the assault — they need to understand that it's not their fault and they're not dirty." Excuse me while I go on a Costco run for two dozen boxes of Kleenex.
If Davis embodied the grace, generosity, and — let's face it — STUN-NING-NESS of the post-#MeToo red carpet, its diametric opposite were the E! hosts. Time's Up issued an implicit challenge to red carpet reporters to step up their game this year. It must be acknowledged that Ryan Seacrest and company have jobs that are vastly more difficult than it looks from the couch. But E!'s two hours before the Globes were a procession of tone-deaf disasters.
Most embarrassingly, Justin Sylvester boasted, "Our coverage is woke!" — absurdly about the fact that his network's B-team was situated by the drop-off area where stars exited their limos. Seacrest couldn't seem to pronounce the word "solidarity." He also kept offering to help actresses down a short flight of stairs when they proved completely fine without his misplaced chivalry. While (the African-American) Burke spoke of being "humbled" by the way the #MeToo movement has exploded, the network's control center minimized her to gawk at Dakota Johnson and Alison Brie. Listening to Rancic promise that she wouldn't ask "who are you wearing?" this year, but "why are you wearing black tonight?" felt like watching a seppuku no one had asked her to perform. E! reporters should be able to ask which designers actresses are wearing; the labor of designers and stylists help their A-list clients say what they want to say. The actresses just want Rancic et al. to #AskThemMore.
The Today team that provided red carpet segments on NBC came off significantly better, since they didn't make any blatant mistakes. Roker, Natalie Morales, Carson Daly and Sheinelle Jones tried to spin the blackout as "inspirational" and "celebratory." But their sunny competence felt off, if not downright insulting to the pain that Hollywood's now-well-documented epidemic of sexual harassment and workplace discrimination has caused. Scores of actors passed by without being asked the one question that seemed most missing from the afternoon: "What should be men's roles in preventing further gender and sexual injustice?" And how are we supposed to process the mental whiplash from grieving the careers that could have been, while watching red carpet reporters lob softballs at a star like James Franco, rumored to have pursued underage girls, and Justin Timberlake, who stars in the latest Woody Allen film?
The seemingly whoever-will-have-us approach to choosing interviewees ultimately served to highlight how endemic the problem of sexual misconduct is — and how easily actors have escaped the complications of complicity. I don't envy NBC and E! producers' jobs; I don't know how to balance the celeb-friendly chatter viewers seemingly crave with this year's sudden tonal change on the red carpet, either. But it would have been nice to get a sense that they gave it a tenth of the thought that Time's Up dedicated to the blackout. The past is gone. It's time to catch up.
Editor's Note: The Golden Globe Awards show is produced by Dick Clark Productions, which shares a parent company with The Hollywood Reporter.