At the 2018 Golden Globes on January 7, Oprah Winfrey stepped onto the stage, dressed in black, and gave a speech so formidable it inspired a rallying cry of “Oprah for President.”
In the room, Oprah was joined by a broken industry trying to reconstruct itself. For the most part, the celebrity attendees wore their black garments in solidarity and affixed to them their #TimesUp pins. A few even brought activists as their dates.
They listened and laughed as Seth Meyers opened with “Good evening, ladies and remaining gentlemen,” and gave the appearance of being on the right side of the ongoing social conversation regarding sexual misconduct.
Following the Golden Globes were the Grammys on January 28. The performers spoke about race, immigration, and women’s rights, while the show saw a 20 per cent decline in ratings from last year. It seems evident that politics has invaded these already self-congratulatory ceremonies, but are they really a vehicle for change?
Awards shows have not come to politics so much as politics have come to them, as the continuing story of sexual assault retribution on a grand scale has played out in the last several months. Our idea of politics has so enveloped the way we communicate with each other, the way we express ourselves and love each other, and the way we make art that I doubt there are many current movies, television shows, or albums that do not espouse any political message. Hollywood is, after all, a collection of humans with political ideologies, and the media that it produces aims to represent both the best and the worst of humanity.
But can we acknowledge that observing Hollywood’s platforms reveals a sexually oppressive culture exploding in front of us? The idea that we can so easily separate the good from the bad will not leave us with clear divisions between right and wrong.
The Globes gave its viewers the fleeting illusion that Oprah can be our saviour and that Hollywood is ready to accept the changes that are coming for it. But the very next day, reports of five sexual assault allegations against James Franco, who had worn his own #TimesUp pin as he won Best Actor the night before, broke the mirage of an industry unified against sexual assault.
The following week, Franco appeared on talk shows, where he spoke about the allegations leveled against him. He was given the most public of platforms to speak his piece.
Unlike the many powerful women who were able to amplify their voices while speaking out against Harvey Weinstein, like Lupita Nyong’o writing a personal essay in The New York Times, Franco’s accusers are largely unknown, and they do not have the sort of influence that has helped other women share their stories. It seems as though they may soon be forgotten, and Franco will likely end up right back in the ranks of Hollywood.
The story we want to tell is one of lasting change — change that doesn’t stop with one awards show, one speech, or one year. We’re trying to create a story where every woman — every person — feels like they can harness the power to create that change.
The best antidote to men who abuse their power seems to be powerful women. In that vein, Oprah’s speech represented the power that women can have.
Oprah’s words are not necessarily equivalent to direct action, but her speech breathed life into a world starved for some positive rhetoric on the subject.
The highlight of Oprah’s speech was its larger message, one that may have been lost in the frantic shuffle to politicize her words. “I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue,” said Oprah. “They’re the women whose names we’ll never know.”
While I doubt that the Globes, black outfits and all, will make the kind of impact that industries such as Hollywood still need, there are still new organizations such as Time’s Up actually raising money to benefit survivors. There are the millions of spectators who will learn how to speak up from this era of chaos.
We need to have open conversations about issues such as sexual assault. If we can’t have them ourselves, then we’ll be left watching celebrities like Oprah do it for us.