Sunday 15 September 2019

Stars back in black at the Baftas

The dress code helped to create an elegant red carpet, but a lacklustre protest, writes Meadhbh McGrath

Jennifer Lawrence. Photo: PA
Jennifer Lawrence. Photo: PA

Meadhbh McGrath

The announcement of another black dress protest at the Bafta awards was met with mixed reaction. While some celebrated it as a defiant show of support, others dismissed it as an empty gesture.

And then there was the added intrigue of what Kate Middleton would wear. Due to attend with Prince William, who is president of Bafta, speculation was rife about whether the pair would remain neutral, as royal protocol dictates, or nod to the protest by donning black.

In the end, Kate opted for a deep forest green gown by Jenny Packham, complete with a black ribbon around the empire waist. Fans applauded the black accents as a diplomatic nod to the campaign, but critics called it a missed opportunity, arguing that the movement to stop sexual harassment isn't a political one.

Saoirse Ronan, in feathered Chanel, and Lupita Nyong'o, in sculptural Elie Saab, paid tribute to the Time's Up movement, while the likes of Naomie Harris and Gemma Arterton were accompanied by activists including Gwen Davis and Eileen Pullen, who staged a walk-out from Ford's Dagenham plant in 1968.

But the real wake-up call came when the feminist group Sisters Uncut stormed the red carpet in protest of the Conservative government's domestic violence policies, wearing t-shirts that read "Time's Up, Theresa" in reference to the British prime minister.

The group, dressed in their black t-shirts, leggings and trainers, made for a striking contrast to the polite chatter and glamour on display elsewhere. While the black dress code has proven to be a major win from a style perspective, resulting in two of the strongest red carpets in recent memory, its effectiveness as a form of protest leaves a lot to be desired.

Saoirse Ronan. Photo: PA
Saoirse Ronan. Photo: PA
Angelina Jolie. Photo: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images
Kate Middleton. Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Lupita Nyong'o. Photo: PA
Margot Robbie. Photo: PA
Naomie Harris (left) arrives with writer and activist Afua Hirsch. Photo: PA
Caitriona Balfe. Photo: PA

The sea of black at the Golden Globes may have proffered a unified message of solidarity, but the movement has been steadily losing momentum and mutating into a passive trend - remember the pitiful white roses at the Grammys? Now that Kate Middleton gets a pass for wearing a black sash, it seems the bar is on the floor for what we'll accept as a fashion protest.

The Baftas also featured a rare female host: Joanna Lumley, who nodded to Time's Up and the Suffragettes in her monologue, but was then left to preside over a ceremony that featured few female winners. After all of the noble talk on the red carpet, the audience heard only the occasional mention from men of the "strong, intelligent and righteous women" in their lives (as noted by Best Supporting Actor winner Sam Rockwell).

"In this very important year for women, I am here on this legendary stage to celebrate men," said Salma Hayek, before jokingly awarding Best Actor to Frances McDormand - a gag met by stony faces from the nominees.

It was McDormand, who eschewed black for a loud Valentino gown, who made the strongest statement. "I have a little trouble with compliance. But I want you to know that I stand in full solidarity with my sisters tonight in black," she said.

She went on to praise the campaigners who took inspiration from her film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and recreated the billboards to demand justice for victims of the Grenfell fire and the Florida school shooting.

"I appreciate a well-organised act of civil disobedience," McDormand added, before concluding with a firm "power to the people."

Irish Independent

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