“As a spirit of feminist activism informed the Hollywood awards ceremony, Oprah Winfrey’s speech was the highlight of the night. Marisa Bate looked on”
Long before anyone even took to the red carpet at last night’s Golden Globes, commentators wondered how the scene would play out. As Oprah said in her highlight-of-the-night-speech (more of that to come): “Each of us in this room are celebrated because of the stories that we tell. And this year we became the story.” The story, of course, being Weinstein, the #MeToo movement and, now, Time’s Up, a $13m legal defence fund created by some of Hollywood’s most powerful to support women victims in all sectors, across all socioeconomic backgrounds. The New York Times investigative journalist Jodi Kantor, who had helped expose Weinstein, had written in the run-up to the ceremony that “Harvey Weinstein helped build the awards circuit as we know it. He’ll be gone from this year’s Golden Globes – denounced, derided, joked about – but his presence, and questionable legacy, will be everywhere”.
And she was right. Host Seth Meyers opened the show: “Good evening, ladies and remaining gentleman.” It’s a new era, he went on to say. “It’s a new era because it’s been years since a white man was this nervous in Hollywood.” Yes, it was disappointing to see a man doing that job this year, especially with Amy Poehler in the audience, but at least Meyers took punts at the holy quartet of dirty old men: Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, Woody Allen and Kevin Spacey.
Yet, Seth Meyers’ gags will not be what people remember of the first Golden Globes after Weinstein’s lid was blown and the women of Hollywood – and the world – rose. It will be Oprah Winfrey’s acceptance speech for the Cecil B DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award.
Oprah used the speech to remember Recy Taylor, the black activist who was kidnapped, beaten and raped by six white men in Alabama in 1944, and never saw justice, despite living to just days short of her 98th birthday. Oprah spoke of the importance of representation as she became the first black woman to accept the award. She commended the #MeToo movement, claiming “speaking truth is the most powerful tool we have” and she paid tribute to all the less powerful and less privileged women who have endured assault and harassment at the hands of men: “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. They’re the women whose names we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farmworkers; they are working in factories and they work in restaurants, and they’re in academia and engineering and medicine and science; they’re part of the world of tech and politics and business; they’re our athletes in the Olympics and they’re our soldiers in the military.”
With a clenched fist, the room rose to its feet as Oprah delivered a sermon of hope and possibility: ‘A new day is on the horizon’
With a clenched fist, the room rose to its feet as Oprah delivered a sermon of hope and possibility: “A new day is on the horizon, and when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women and some pretty phenomenal men fighting hard to make sure they become the leaders that take us to the time when nobody ever has to say Me Too again.” Leave it to Oprah to articulate the struggle that women, particularly women of colour, have endured in the same brilliant, devastating breath as foreseeing a bright, brand-new day. Meyers made a gag about Oprah running for president (with Hanks as vice-president) and you can imagine there were a lot of crossed fingers in the room.
Other women also made their mark, although perhaps not with such fervour. Natalie Portman, when announcing the nominees for best director, pointed out the all-male list. On the red carpet, while being interviewed by E!, Debra Messing called out E!’s gender pay gap: “I was so shocked to hear that E! doesn’t believe in paying their female co-hosts the same as their male co-hosts … I miss Catt Sadler and we stand with her.” (Host Sadler recently left the network because of the pay gap.) Eva Longoria, Sarah Jessica Parker and Laura Dern all also had a stab at E! for paying their women co-hosts less than the men. Connie Britton wore a “poverty is sexist” jumper and female activists were invited to the ceremony, including, according to The Cut: “Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement; Billie Jean King, who founded the Women’s Tennis Association; Marai Larasi of Imkaan, a UK-based black feminist organization; Rosa Clemente, an organizer; Ai-jen Poo of the National Domestic Workers Alliance; Mónica Ramírez of national farmworker women’s organization Alianza Nacional de Campesinas; Calina Lawrence, a native activist; and Saru Jayaraman of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United”. And, of course, the attendees wore black. While the idea was initially criticised for being token, the pictures tell another story – one of solidarity and commitment.
The winning films also reflected the demand for women’s stories to be heard: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (the story of a mother’s fight for justice) and Big Little Lies both took four awards, while The Handmaid’s Tale and Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird each won in two categories.
There has been criticism that we didn’t hear from enough men on the issue of #MeToo and sexual harassment. Yet, was last night really about men speaking or was it about women’s voices? Of course, Oprah knows best: “I just hope that Recy Taylor died knowing that her truth – like the truth of so many other women who were tormented in those years, and even now tormented – goes marching on. It was somewhere in Rosa Parks’s heart almost 11 years later, when she made the decision to stay seated on that bus in Montgomery. And it’s here with every woman who chooses to say, ‘Me too.’ And every man – every man – who chooses to listen.”