On the red carpet and the stage of Sunday’s Golden Globes, women spoke with much eloquence and genuine optimism about a “new day,” to use Oprah’s exact phrase. They talked passionately about the injustices women have faced and the power they have to right wrongs. Yet, despite their inspirational words, I don’t feel excited about a bright future; I’m more concerned about whether Hollywood as an institution really gets what these women are trying to say. I admit that I tend to be rather pessimistic and cynical as a rule, but for me, many aspects of this show and the stories circulating today dulled any glimmer of hope I saw Sunday night.
A lot of people write off awards shows–and especially the Globes–as shallow, self-congratulatory preening by Hollywood A-listers. While that assessment is largely true, in recent years these shows have led to some pretty important discussions about representation, equality, and diversity. This year, of course, the main issues were sexual harassment and assault by men in the entertainment and media industries. We heard many stories from many women (and some men) about abuses and mistreatment endured on a regular basis, as well as outright crimes committed by the men they worked with. (“Disgraced” movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was the first of several perpetrators to be named.) Others added their thoughts, leading to debates and more discussions about related issues: the rightness or wrongness of judging actions from decades ago through today’s lens; the difficulty of separating art from the artist who created it when that person turns out to be less than exemplary (or criminal) in his behaviour; and how serious a sexual transgression needs to be to justify “ruining” a man’s career. (There is a continuum, according to actor Matt Damon, and women should only be concerned with criminal behaviour, not actions that are merely “shameful and gross,” like a man forcing women to watch him masturbate. I’m so grateful we have sages like him to clarify it all for us!)
So what happened with this, the first major awards ceremony in the post-Weinstein era? The Globes’ creator, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), had a chance to make a real difference with its choice of nominees and honourees, but some of its decisions were, shall we say, a little tone deaf.
On the topic of representation, the HFPA failed miserably in a category that is so male-dominated there has been only one female winner, and she won the award 34 years ago. Anyone who watched on Sunday saw Barbra Streisand, that sole female winner, express her disgust and frustration. The category, of course, is Best Director. There were no females among the nominees in this category this year, despite Lady Bird, one of the most widely acclaimed films of the year, being helmed by a woman and rated significantly higher than the films by nominees Ridley Scott and Steven Spielberg. Ditto for Mudbound, directed by Dee Rees and Wonder Woman, by Patty Jenkins. (By “rated” I mean the Rotten Tomatoes score, which is a pretty decent reflection of which films were viewed most positively by critics and audiences.) This was a category where there were multiple deserving females. Selecting even one would have made a powerful statement about the capabilities and skills of women as filmmakers, yet the HFPA chose five guys like it always does.
Some of the personalities chosen for honours should also raise some eyebrows:
- James Franco. There was lots of chatter about him this morning. Here’s one report from Newsweek. The story about him trying to talk a 17-year-old into meeting him at a New York hotel was widely reported and verified (mostly) by him. A gossip site posted a similar story with more damning tweets about the actor. And Ally Sheedy’s here-then-gone tweets have also raised questions. Tweets should not preclude someone from being nominated for an award but, in this case, one of the actors accusing Franco of exploiting her noted that she and three other women have spoken up before. She said people have chosen to listen now only because Franco is “trending.” (Daily Mail). Maybe the HFPA didn’t know about these other stories, but they had to have known about the 17-year-old and the hotel room. What Franco did is not illegal–the age of consent in New York is 17–but it is not a great look in the #MeToo era. Until Sunday, this could have been considered one of those art-versus-artist cases–he did something unsavoury but he’s a brilliant actor! Now, things look a little different for Franco. Will anyone dig deeper here? Where there’s smoke, there is usually fire and persistent rumours can turn out to be true. Comparisons to Casey Affleck may start to be drawn, although Affleck settled an actual lawsuit. To my knowledge, there has not been any legal action taken against Franco, but who knows what the future holds for him with these new allegations. In this light, I guess his nomination was actually not such a bad thing, since it’s given women who have something to say about him a chance to be heard. It will be interesting to see where this one goes, especially with Oscar nominations due soon.
- Christian Slater. He was also named by Ally Sheedy and also has a troubling past about which he, apparently, has no regrets. When asked in a November, 2017 article about said regrets, he spoke mostly about his work. He acknowledged being happy that women’s voices are being heard now, but the reporter had another question, noted in this paragraph: “In the post-Weinstein world, it was jarring to hear Slater say he did not regret a history that includes being jailed for beating his girlfriend, so I asked at the end of the interview if he’d like a chance to clarify? ‘What a salacious cunt this guy is!’ he replied. The PR stepped in and ushered him away to the next appointment.” (He later apologized for his words.) Perhaps Slater’s violent past is behind him, but his response creates some doubts and makes his selection as a nominee a curious one. It also makes me wonder if a woman who called a reporter a c**ksucker (or some such term) and stormed out of an interview would be given a nomination for a major acting award just a few weeks later. Again, this is not a great look for the HFPA. (I didn’t see a Time’s Up pin on Slater, so at least he’s not a hypocrite? It would be kind of hard for him to say time’s up when he refuses to reckon with his past violent behaviour towards women.)
- Gary Oldman. There are also whispers about Oldman’s past. His supposed defense of Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic rant has been explained as not really a defense, but just an example used in a critique of political correctness. Nevertheless, Oldman apologized for his anti-Semitic remarks. His backhanded and misogynistic insult of Nancy Pelosi? Not sure there ever was an apology. And even if it too was used as an example of political correctness run amok, it was pretty damn specific. (For those who didn’t click through, he said that unlike late-night talk show hosts, he could never getting away with calling Pelosi a c**t or going “one better” and calling her a “fucking useless c**t”.) And this was not some long ago indiscretion–it happened in 2014. I guess the HFPA figures this isn’t enough to remove him from consideration for awards (being something on the less harmful end of Matt Damon’s continuum). Maybe it isn’t, since this is another art-versus-artist issue–nothing illegal done, just everyday misogyny–but did he have to win? As an aside, I do find it interesting that Oldman wore a Time’s Up pin. Since he is clearly concerned about women, maybe it’s time he explained himself and his decision to publicly insult a woman using a word that most people find utterly repugnant. (And if he has done so, I apologize. I looked and couldn’t find any record of him telling Pelosi he was sorry.)*
I guess my overall message to the HFPA is, all things being equal–and with acting nods they usually are–why not try giving awards to guys who haven’t called anyone a c**t lately or tried luring teenagers to a hotel room? Is that too much to ask, especially now?
And then there is presenter Kirk Douglas, who was honoured with a brief montage of his work. He was given a standing ovation, which was entirely the audience’s choice, but it was the HFPA’s invitation that gave them the opportunity. Twitter called out Douglas’ presence, according to this story about the longtime rumours that Douglas brutally raped actor Natalie Wood. Again, rumour and innuendo are not necessarily enough to demonize someone, but the chorus of disapproval on this one was pretty loud, lending credence to the stories that have been circulating for many years. And, if gossip is to be believed, Douglas has quite a reputation. A description from Twitter user @entylawyer is below. His age and health may have been factors but perhaps this wasn’t the year to bring Douglas to the awards?
In addition to the HFPA’s puzzling choices, the silence of male winners was also confounding. As many people noted on Twitter Sunday night, no male winners mentioned Time’s Up or #MeToo. I realize there is limited time given for acceptance speeches, but not one word? The Atlantic summarizes this aspect of the evening well. I didn’t see the red carpet coverage but according to this story, some men did speak up there. Still, when on stage, couldn’t some guy have said even something as basic as “This lapel pin I’m wearing is a symbol of much needed change and I’m proud to wear it. Visit timesupnow.com to show your support.” Is it really that hard?
After all was said and done, the words that stuck with me were not said by Oprah or Laura Dern or Nicole Kidman, or anyone else who spoke up Sunday night. Instead, it was this phrase: plus ça change. I know the women of Time’s Up will keep fighting. And I know they believe their efforts will bring significant change, but with precious little evidence Sunday night that their message is getting through to the men who need to hear it, I have a hard time sharing that belief.
*I have not included here the allegations of domestic violence made against Oldman by his third wife. From what I read,the case was settled and Oldman was given full custody of their children. I assume from the custody arrangement that the allegations were found to be false.