Entertainment

Sunday 22 July 2018

Blackout on the red carpet

Stars signal the end of Weinstein-era ignorance with dress protest at the Golden Globes, writes Meadhbh McGrath

Actor Meryl Streep (L) and NDWA Director Ai-jen Poo. Photo Getty Images
Actor Meryl Streep (L) and NDWA Director Ai-jen Poo. Photo Getty Images

Meadhbh McGrath

It was the night the Golden Globes turned black, as women in Hollywood seized control of the one area in which they reign supreme - the red carpet.

The 'blackout' was intended to replace the usual pre-awards show chatter with thoughtful discussions about gender parity and abuse in the workplace, and was promoted by Time's Up, an initiative aimed at bringing an end to sexual harassment and gender inequality in the entertainment industry and beyond.

Claire Foy. Photo: REX/Shutterstock
Claire Foy. Photo: REX/Shutterstock

The result was somewhat muddled. About a third of red carpets are populated by black gowns and suits to begin with, so the sea of black fabric didn't have quite the desired visual impact.

Fashion fans may have been disappointed that none of the actresses credited the designers or stylists who spent weeks putting their carefully-crafted looks together. Ahead of the event, Prabal Gurung, the designer who dressed a radiant Issa Rae, had said: "When future generations look back on this watershed moment, I hope they will realise that fashion served a crucial role in conveying this powerful message, and that fashion is no longer just about beauty and glamour."

But there was still plenty of room for glamour. Without having to worry about colour or pattern, the emphasis in styling was on impeccable fit - see Reese Witherspoon in custom Zac Posen as a shining example. Claire Foy and Matt Smith, stars of Netflix hit The Crown, wore matching tuxedos (hers by Stella McCartney). Saoirse Ronan embellished her black Atelier Versace gown with metallic accents, while the same designer provided dazzling feather-trimmed tulle for Angelina Jolie.

Women partnered up with other women - Witherspoon walked arm-in-arm with Eva Longoria, Natalie Portman with America Ferrera - they spoke eloquently about the campaign, or they allowed activists like Ai-Jen Poo, from the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and Tarana Burke, who is credited with starting the #MeToo social media movement, to speak in their place. Michelle Williams, who walked the red carpet with Burke, steered every interview question back to her guest.

Reese Witherspoon. Photo: Getty Images
Reese Witherspoon. Photo: Getty Images

Usually lasting just a couple of minutes and set against the backdrop of a noisy party, red carpet interviews aren't really designed for substantive conversation. But the reporters gave it a shot: Giuliana Rancic, the E! News host covering the event, grandly declared that she and Ryan Seacrest would not be asking "who are you wearing", but instead "why are you wearing black?". This backfired in her first interview when Will & Grace star Debra Messing called out the network live on air for the pay gap between former correspondent Catt Sadler and her male co-host.

"I was so shocked to hear that E! doesn't believe in paying their female co-hosts the same as their male co-hosts," Messing said. "I miss Catt Sadler, and we stand with her."

Viola Davis took the opportunity to tell survivors of sexual abuse: "You're born worthy, and I think that's a message a lot of women need to hear. 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."

And yet, the burden fell time and again on women to address the issue. The men all showed up in black (not much of a stretch for a black-tie event), but few of them bothered to speak out. Stranger Things actor David Harbour sported a Time's Up pin, only to cringingly bluff his way through the red carpet Q&A.

Angelina Jolie. Photo: Getty Images
Angelina Jolie. Photo: Getty Images

While the blackout succeeded in changing the conversation (for one night, at least), there's something uneasy about women changing how they dress to protest sexual abuse.

Instead, perhaps we should look at it as a way of marking the end of the Weinstein era of wilful ignorance, and the beginning of a new one, ready for change. Meryl Streep put it concisely when she said: "We feel emboldened in this particular moment to stand together in a thick black line, dividing then from now."

Tracee Ellis Ross. Photo: Reuters
Tracee Ellis Ross. Photo: Reuters
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