At the end of last year, I had the good fortune to interview Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie. Interviewing two people at once can be a nightmare, but they were a dream. They extolled each other’s talents, recalled how much fun they’d had working together and didn’t interrupt each other once, their mutual respect shining out as radiantly as their beauty. I’ve interviewed a tonne of Hollywood actors, but these two were different – twin breaths of fresh air determined to bring positive change to an industry not exactly renowned for its unstinting support of women.
Sunday’s Golden Globes marked the start of awards season. At last year’s event, the vast majority of nominees wore black out of respect for the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, with the Oscars, a month later, echoing the sombre mood. That viewing figures for both ceremonies were the lowest on record, with some critics blaming the lack of glamour, and one opining that “long-winded polemics about every worthy cause under the sun and Hollywood princesses dressed like the Addams Family” might have been the likely cause. Each to their own, but I’d always choose substance over style: that last year’s awards combined style and substance felt like an important shift forward. I can’t even remember what Frances McDormand wore to the 2018 Oscars. But I do remember her impassioned speech.
Who can forget the drubbing that Björk received at the 2001 Oscars for dressing as a swan? If 2019 is going to be significant for anything, it will be for calling #TimesUp on that
Isn’t that how it should be? Since time began, a woman’s role at awards ceremonies has typically been to provide not brain food but eye candy, the convention being that they bedeck themselves in priceless jewels and elegant couture after hours spent in hair and make-up and weeks spent at the gym to ensure they present the best possible version of themselves for our delectation. Every female actor in Hollywood knows the consequences if they fall short of the mark: public humiliation meted out in circles of shame and anonymous waspish asides in the online comments sections of broadsheets and tabloids. No wonder the gowns, the hair and the jewels tend to be so conventional: who can forget the drubbing that Björk received at the 2001 Oscars for dressing as a swan?
If 2019 is going to be significant for anything, it will be for calling #TimesUp on that. No matter that publicity for the cause itself was relegated to the wearing of a discreet wristband: there are more significant ways to get your message across than by wearing all-black. Whether it was Lady Gaga dying her hair to match her Valentino dress, Julia Roberts proving you can wear a dress and the trousers in her Stella McCartney hybrid or Jameela Jamil announcing on Twitter that she was wearing jeans under her pink Monique Lhuillier gown (“an experienced woman wears jeans under her gown because it’s forking COLD”, she explained), it seemed to indicate that women are dressing for awards ceremonies on their own terms instead of those imposed on them by men.
“I called the women’s gang,” explained Sandra Oh’s stylist, Elizabeth Saltzman. “I called Stella McCartney. I called Donatella Versace. She’s wearing all-female designers, but that’s not a statement from her, or from me. It was a way for me to think about her, and how I respect her.”
And that’s precisely the point: there are other ways to make a statement than by making a statement in the literal sense. Consider the equally powerful statement made by Saoirse Ronan who, when interviewed by Ellen DeGeneres, explained that she eschewed the glitzy after-parties to spend time with her friends. “I ran, I changed, I went back to the hotel and I got into my pyjamas... I got to my friend Jake and Ally's house and we watched the rest of it on TV,” she explained. “I basically just finished off watching the show in my pyjamas and ate pizza.” Time’s up on being a showpony, trotting out to fulfil a function. The new breed of Hollywood star is navigating awards season on her own terms.