American red-carpet arrival shows – those two-hour specials that precede the actual awards – are renowned for being silly spectacles riddled with awkward moments and sexist nonsense. But for many in North America, including me, they are also something of an annual ritual.
It was a different story this year, when the #TimesUp movement hit the Golden Globe Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday night. This was the first awards show since the reckoning that began with revelations about producer Harvey Weinstein, followed by ongoing reports about what the show’s host Seth Myers called “powerful men and their terrible behaviour”. And the parade of female stars attending the show, in which Hollywood Foreign Press honours the best in American television and film, clearly meant business about their desire for change.
When it was first rumoured that all the actresses attending would be wearing black, there was a predictable amount of sniping in the press. Many assumed that the night would be about restrained fashion and nothing else.
But then 300-plus women working in Hollywood – led by big names such as actress Reese Witherspoon and director Shonda Rhimes – revealed what they had pulled together, which is really quite astonishing. Sure, the actresses would be wearing black, to stand in solidarity with all the regular, less privileged women who have been harassed, abused and treated unfairly in the workplace, but they had also quickly mobilised to launch a legal defence fund for those women. It has already raised more than US$16 million (Dh59m).
They also got everyone at the Globes on board – and on message – in record time. The entire effort was swiftly and capably executed. As the stars took to the red carpet, it felt like a very different Hollywood, one that was finally paying attention to the work women do rather than just what they look like. This started back in 2015 when Witherspoon – now a powerhouse producer – launched the #AskHerMore campaign, after growing frustrated with the sexist, largely appearance-focused questions that she was consistently faced with on the red carpet.
If it weren't for her and the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, perhaps E! host Ryan Seacrest would have failed to ask nominee actress Jessica Biel about not only starring in, but developing and producing The Sinner, and focused on something more superficial. Having asked meaningless questions for years, it took a bunch of black dresses to get him to change.
Blessedly gone, also, were trifles such as E!'s "mani-cam", where actresses walk their diamond-laden fingers down a miniature red carpet, and I didn't see one camera operator demeaningly pan down the body of a woman. The network still had a "360 camera", but they also used it to show men and couples. With the objectification factor removed, the entire conversation was elevated. It was surreal watching a parade of glammed-up actresses be so serious and so in control of their message, and to put on such a calmly unified show of force.
Will & Grace star Debra Messing – who chose to wear trousers – early on called out the E! Network over its treatment of former anchor Catt Sadler. Sadler quit in December after learning that her equally experienced co-host, Jason Kennedy, was being paid twice what she was. "I was so surprised to find out that E! doesn't believe in paying its female co-host the same as their male co-host," she told Giuliana Rancic, who didn't comment. "I miss Catt Sadler."
Fashion-wise, even with all the black, things were hardly boring. There was more of a focus on bold make-up and statement jewellery, with emeralds emerging as a favourite. There was a lot of bedazzling embellishment – sequins, crystals and Diane Kruger’s Prada dress, which had actual gems sewn into it – and pops of colour, such as best song nominee Kelly Clarkson’s Christian Sirano gown, which had gold on the sleeves and collar.
Other actresses stood out thanks to texture and cut. Big Little Lies star Nicole Kidman, who credited her mom's early activism in the women's movement when she accepted her best actress award, stood out in a delicate Givenchy column dress with lace and netting. Insecure creator, star and nominee Issa Rae was stunning in a liquid metallic number from Prabal Gurung, while Biel turned to tulle and velvet in her strapless black Dior Haute Couture ball gown.
Sticking to one colour prevented a lot of the dramatic fashion misses of past shows. And given what has happened over the last few months, it might also be #TimesUp on the practice of publicly shaming women for their fashion choices, anyway. Rather than being sombre, the proceedings seemed infused with joy, captured best by the cheers that greeted America’s godmother Oprah Winfrey, as she picked up the Cecil B DeMille award. “A new day is on the horizon,” she said. “And when that day finally dawns it will be because of many magnificent women… and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say #MeToo again.”
Adding more heft and more voices, many of the actresses brought heavyweight activists from the women's movement as their dates. This was the brainchild of The Greatest Showman's best actress nominee Michelle Williams, who brought Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement. It's "turning something from a fashion moment and a parade of dresses into something that means so much," said Williams. Meryl Streep, star of The Post, brought as her date Ai-Jen Poo, director of the American National Domestic Worker's Alliance. "I think people are aware of a power imbalance and it's led to abuse across our industry, it's led to abuse in the domestic worker's industry; it's in the military, it's in Congress, it's everywhere," said Streep. "
As best actress nominee Alison Brie put it: “I love that this movement isn’t just about talking about an issue, it’s about taking action about an issue.”