I don’t usually watch awards shows. Isn’t recapping those what the internet’s for? But, I somehow stumbled on Seth Meyers’ uncomfortably self-conscious opening monologue to the Golden Globes last night and couldn’t help but settle in to see how Hollywood would handle this new era of wokeness.
Sure, they’ve been woke to everyone else’s problems for a long time, and were happy to lecture the rest of us about how to be better, but now the problem is squarely, unavoidably with them. Harvey Weinstein was the biggest kingmaker in the business and it turned out he was also an expert in predation and abuse and getting a pass for it thanks to his power and influence.
I tweeted my cynicism at the beginning of the night about everyone’s decision to wear black:
On a very special night, as long as everyone wears black, if one industry of rampant perversion lectures another industry of rampant perversion super self-righteously, all the perversion is solved.
— Mary Katharine Ham (@mkhammer) January 8, 2018
First of all, I missed the fun dresses and I bet actresses missed wearing them. I regret we’re letting Harvey and the abuser class take that away, but the cumulative effect in the room was striking. Hard to forget the issue when absolutely everyone was showing up to the party in Scarlett’s mourning clothes.
But here’s what I didn’t expect. Lecturing was minimal. The President and Mitch McConnell and Roy Moore and the killer tax bill or what-have-you were rarely used to deflect attention from the sins in the room.
The change in tone was obvious from early on. There was exactly one Trump joke in the opening monologue, and it was tired and light by comparison to what others got:
“Yeah, give it up for the Hollywood Foreign Press. A string of three words that could not have been better designed to infuriate our president. ‘Hollywood foreign press.’ The only name that could make him angrier would be the Hillary Mexico Salad Association.”
At another point, Meyers made reference to Trump as a way to joke that Oprah should run for president with Tom Hanks as her running mate, but it wasn’t really at Trump’s expense. NBC’s Twitter account later ran with that, maybe a little too far:
— NBC (@nbc) January 8, 2018
But the Trump jabs felt obligatory, whereas Kevin Spacey and others:
Well, despite everything that happened this year, the show goes on. For example, I was happy to hear they’re going to do another season of ‘House of Cards.’ Is Christopher Plummer available for that, too? I hope he can do a Southern accent, ’cause Kevin Spacey sure couldn’t. Oh, is that too mean? To Kevin Spacey?
Daniel Kaluuya is nominated for best actor for his work in ‘Get Out.’ Daniel plays a young man lured to an event full of aging white people desperate to reclaim their youth, [looking around] and — oh, my God, Daniel, it’s a trap! Get out!
Hey, when you finally go under the bus in Hollywood, you really go under the bus, I guess. Someone get Roman Polanski back here for this treatment instead of a standing ovation.
Meyers also wisely kept his airtime minimal, letting several actresses deliver his punchlines during the opener, and rarely taking up much time during the rest of the show. Too many hosts overhost. But the opening monologue is one thing. Meyers has some obligation to be entertaining, though you wouldn’t know it from his late-night show. Oh, was that too mean? To Seth Meyers?
Once the actors and actresses take the mic, watch out, I thought. But then an amazing thing happened. Actors and actresses acted like people with social IQs who might actually be capable of getting people to listen to them without beating them over the head with sanctimony.
Elisabeth Moss won for the “Handmaid’s Tale,” and she didn’t even use the word “timely” once!
“We were the people who were not in the papers,” Moss said, quoting “The Handmaid’s Tale’s” author Margaret Atwood. “We lived in the blank white spaces at the edge of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the story.”
“Margaret Atwood, this is for you and the women who came before you and after you who were brave enough to speak out against intolerance and injustice,” Moss continued. “We no longer live in the blank white spaces at the edge of print. We no longer live in the gaps between the stories. We are the story in print. We are writing the story ourselves.”
Frances McDormand, accepting her award for Best Actress for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” offered one joke about a female president and ended with: “I keep my politics private, but it was really great to be in this room tonight and to be a part of the tectonic shift in our industry’s power structure. Trust me, the women in this room tonight are not here for the food. They are here for the work.”
Oprah Winfrey, who won the Cecille B. Demille Lifetime Achievement Award, told a touching story about watching Sidney Poitier receive a Golden Globe in 1964.
His tie was white, his skin was black — and he was being celebrated. I’d never seen a black man being celebrated like that. I tried many, many times to explain what a moment like that means to a little girl, a kid watching from the cheap seats as my mom came through the door bone tired from cleaning other people’s houses.
She went on to tell a story of Recy Taylor, who was raped on the way home from church in Alabama in 1944. The young African-American girl’s attackers never saw the inside of a court room or a jail house, and the Alabama legislature gave her an official apology in 2011. Taylor died just days ago.
She lived as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up.
Their time is up. And I just hope — 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.
Taylor’s story is one of real injustice. At a time when society too often focuses on the smallest of microaggressions, Oprah’s choice of her story offered the gift of perspective.
Both Moss and Winfrey received criticism for alleged hypocrisy. Moss because she belongs to the Church of Scientology, an organization with some very “Handmaid-y” rule enforcement in its history, including forced abortion and imprisonment of women, among other accusations. Winfrey because she knew Weinstein for years, was one of the most powerful women in entertainment, and hosted a show for women and about women for decades, yet never did this expose herself.
Some of the criticism is deserved. The muted tone of their speeches suggests they know it. Instead of attempting to end the Trump presidency with the sheer blowhardiness of their cultural criticisms, they practiced something Hollywood could use a lot more of — restraint. The result was — dare I say it? — sort of entertaining. Now, just let Hugh Jackman and Justin Timberlake sing and dance the entirety of the Oscars, and we’ll all be happier.