Golden Globes awards put solidarity on the red carpet

Will Hollywood stars' call for equality and an end to abuse be enough to effect real change?

Actress and TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey poses with the Cecil B. DeMille Award during the 75th Golden Globe Awards on January 7, 2018, in Beverly Hills, California. / AFP PHOTO / Frederic J. BROWN
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After a streak of sexual assault allegations toppled such industry giants as Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, the eyes of the world descended on Hollywood for the 75th annual Golden Globes. The atmosphere was sombre, the outfits funereal. A number of stars brought race and gender equality activists, including Tarana Burke, the founder of the "Me Too" movement which calls out sexual harassment. Others promoted the "Time's Up" initiative, which supports victims. Oprah Winfrey made a speech so rousing it spurred calls for a presidential run. Throughout, hope and introspection abounded.

Yet concrete change is more elusive where discrimination is concerned. Accepting a lifetime achievement award, Winfrey recalled Sidney Poitier’s Oscar win in 1964, the first awarded to a black actor. “I’d never seen a black man being celebrated like that,” she said. More than five decades later, Winfrey, winner of an honorary Oscar in 2011, had just become the first black woman to win the Cecil B Demille award at the Golden Globes. Sterling K Brown and Aziz Ansari became the first black and Asian actors respectively to win awards in their categories.

The sentiments encapsulated by the "Me Too" and "Time's Up" campaigns transcend Hollywood. With more women coming forward in the US, influential heads have rolled. The movements have had unexpected consequences far and wide. On Monday, BBC China editor Carrie Gracie published an open letter of resignation, citing a "secretive and illegal pay culture" that favours men. She will no doubt galvanise others. Wage inequality remains a persistent and damaging fact of the contemporary workplace.

Political stances are not new to Hollywood. In 1973, Marlon Brando declined an Academy Award, sending activist Sacheen Littlefeather in his place to highlight the industry’s mistreatment of Native Americans. In 2017, best documentary winner Ezra Edelman dedicated his Oscar to victims of police violence. The year before that, Leonardo DiCaprio demanded action on climate change in his victory speech.

Ultimately, these statements yielded very little. But with more participants, shifting public opinion, social media vigour and clear relevance for women worldwide, the prevalent mood at the Golden Globes has more potential to take hold. And given the sway of Hollywood’s luminaries in the US and abroad, onlookers would be advised to curb their scepticism. Times may well be changing.