Little Black Dress

Elizabeth-Taylor.jpg

On the first morning of 2018 the most influential women in Hollywood took out a full page ad in the New York Times. This formed the announcement of the Times Up initiative, where 300 actresses, producers and directors signed a joined statement to try and put an end to sexual harassment. The long list of names included powerful voices such as Rose McGowan, Shonda Rhimes, Jessica Chastain, Reese Witherspoon, Ava DuVernay and Eva Longoria. And importantly, the ad stated their intention to try and help women in blue collar jobs where it’s even harder to speak up against sexual assault.

Times Up includes a legal defense fund, with over $13m donated to help victims find lawyers to help their cases. And for the first time, several non-profit organizations will be working together for their common goals. These include Women In Film with their new sexual harassment hotline, and a group called 50/50 by 2020, which seeks to have gender parity in positions of power. I find that group the most exciting, because until more women are involved at the highest levels, nothing will change. It’s the toxic boy’s club culture which has allowed sexual harassment to fester in Hollywood for all these decades.

We’ll see the first statement by Times Up play out on the red carpet at tomorrow’s Golden Globe Awards. The group has put the call out for women to wear black in solidarity with victims of harassment and assault. Predictably, there has been criticism over using women’s bodies and what they are wearing as a statement against discrimination. But to me, this is a genius move to try and subvert the superficiality of an awards red carpet, diverting attention to the real issue at hand.

The red carpet has always been a place of huge gender inequality. You can see this plainly in those video compilations of all the sexist questions directed at female stars. When it comes to interviews, the red carpet is where men are asked about their work, and women about their dress. Often accompanied with lingering shots as the camera traces up and down their bodies. It’s true that red carpets are big business for fashion. In exchange for wearing the dress, the actress has to promote the designer. But I’ve always believed this responsibility should lie with the actor and not the reporter. They are more than capable of working in a name drop when they need to. Or it can be a quick mention after talking about their work, the very reason they are on the carpet. But asking questions that are exclusively about their looks - how long it took to get ready, what they are wearing underneath their dress - is just another way of reducing accomplished women to mere objects.

After the recent deluge of sexual harassment revelations and the subsequent firings of powerful men, there’s simply no way that the red carpet this awards season will be the same. But asking women to wear black ensures that the conversation will remain on the real issues at hand, no matter what. Even if reporters ask “Who are you wearing?” they will most likely get an answer as to why they are wearing black. Times Up and sexual harassment will also be mentioned alongside any fashion reporting and captions of photos. Plus it makes those worst dress lists harder to put together.

The red carpet portion of award shows have long been dismissed as mere mindless entertainment. Reporters are limited to one or two questions and stars don’t necessarily want to answer in-depth questions. But I’ve long believed there is a way to cover the red carpet with both fun and substance. That there is a place for intelligent entertainment. The recent movement #AskHerMore by The Representation Project has made a bit of headway, calling for reporters to ask women about more than just the dress. And Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls have shown just how much stars appreciate different questions, like what they are reading or advice they’d give, usually submitted by young female fans. Unfortunately their red carpet spot is usually limited so they don’t actually get to interview many people.

There is a hierarchy which exists on the carpet, where publicists rush their stars to the big national broadcasters and entertainment shows who have paid for their own platforms, walking straight past smaller online and international outlets. It’s a love-hate relationship between entertainment shows and stars, with publicists wanting the type of exposure a channel like E! can give, all the while praying the host won’t ask anything too personal. Meanwhile the host knows if they don’t, they will get in trouble with their producers. To be honest as a genuine movie lover it is always frustrating for me to be on a red carpet at an awards show. Either I have my own spot down the end where I’m reduced to yelling things like “Nicole Kidman! Australia! Talk to Australia Nicole!” to try and entice the star over. Or I watch from the sidelines as a TV host tries madly to memorize a binder’s worth of facts about the movies nominated. Or I throw things from the TV at home as reporters interview ‘Room’ star Brie Larson about ‘The Room’. That is a very different movie. I wish these shows would hire more film and television critics and journalists to help, professionals who have spent the past year living and breathing the nominees. This year to the Globes, the New York Times is sending a Pulitzer prize winning photographer to capture the red carpet, and an impressive team of journalists to conduct interviews. 

The pledge for women to make a statement with fashion is a step towards transforming the dog-and-pony show of the red carpet. But my further hope is that reporters don’t exclusively ask women about harassment during awards season. Women have been dealing with it for so long, and it’s often left to us to talk about. Often with panels of women speaking to crowds of women. Times Up on leaving all the solutions to women. Now, I want to hear from men about what they’ve learnt from listening to us speak up, and how they will use their voices and power to change Hollywood.