“Congratulations on your nomination. I loved [insert name of relevant movie/TV show/miniseries]. Oh, and you look beautiful! Tell me about your dress.”
That’s pretty much the way red carpet coverage goes, year in and year out, awards show after awards show.
Except this year.
Ahead of the Golden Globe Awards on Sunday, celebrities announced that they would be wearing all-black outfits to the festivities this year, a gesture to the recent Time’s Up initiative combatting workplace sexual harassment. Black gowns. Black pantsuits. Black tuxedos. The darkest shade was the color of the evening, chosen to symbolize celebrities’ fight against misconduct. The New York Times, responding to the news, predicted that the 2018 awards show would involve a very different kind of red carpet experience.
Indeed, E!, the network with a monopoly on red carpet coverage, attempted to acquiesce to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements by refocusing its on-carpet interviews. Yes, the hi-res Glambot camera was still in play. But instead of the usual style-related queries, hosts Ryan Seacrest and Giuliana Rancic asked actress after actress questions about gender disparity in Hollywood and the recent sexual misconduct reckoning.
The effort was undeniable, but so was the network’s failure: Seacrest and Rancic put women on the spot, and left their male colleagues unchallenged.
Gone were the tiring questions and comments common to the carpet: Namely, “Who are you wearing?” Yet the obvious gender imbalance of pre-show fashion parades remained. Actress Michelle Williams spent her interview praising her guest for the evening, #MeToo movement instigator and Girls for Gender Equity senior director Tarana Burke. And Meryl Streep used her time to advocate for the work of National Domestic Workers Alliance director Ai-jen Poo.
But actors like Bob Odenkirk and Justin Timberlake managed to avoid serious questions like those hurled at their female counterparts. E! didn’t ask them what they thought of the Harvey Weinstein effect.
Of course, E! had the best of intentions.
“We’re not asking, ‘Who are you wearing?’ We’re asking, ‘Why are you wearing black?’” longtime host Rancic announced to viewers. “There’ll still be all the fun and exciting moments that you have come to expect from the E! red carpet, but we also want to embrace this movement and allow these celebrities who are coming tonight, who have a big voice, to speak on behalf of millions who don’t.”
“We’ve been so excited about changing the carpet and turning something from just a fashion moment in a parade of dresses to something that means so much to all of us ― as women, as mothers, as sisters, as daughters.” Michelle Williams to NBC
And speak they did, in ways E! may not have predicted. Take, for example, Debra Messing, who used her few minutes on camera to slam the network’s decision to let go of host Catt Sadler last month. Sadler left her gig as an E! News personality after she found out her male co-host and friend, Jason Kennedy, was making double her paycheck.
“We want diversity, we want intersectional gender parity, we want equal pay,” Messing told Rancic at the Globes. “I was so shocked to hear that E! doesn’t believe in paying their female co-hosts the same as their male co-hosts. I miss Catt Sadler and so we stand with her. We want people to start having this conversation that women are just as valuable as men.”
However, notably missing from E!’s coverage were similar proclamations from men. Seacrest and Rancic repeatedly asked women about rising awareness of sexual misconduct in their industry, but failed to ask a single male actor the same types of questions. Instead, the men, #TimesUp pins on their black lapels, were issued the standard carpet queries.
In one eyebrow-raising instance, Seacrest asked “This is Us” star Sterling K. Brown to recount his wife Ryan Michelle Bathe’s birthing story as she stood beside him. The conversation hung on Brown’s role in the labor and delivery process. Eventually, an unamused Bathe looked at both men and said, “Time’s up! Time’s up!”
Sadly, the only man in Seacrest’s company who even briefly mentioned his #TimesUp pin ― or the initiative ― was Armie Hammer, but that was after he spoke about James Franco’s all-male nominees dinner on Saturday night.
When asked via email why the hosts didn’t include men in the discussion about Time’s Up, an E! source referenced Hammer’s remarks and told HuffPost: “Conversation about the movement was woven throughout interviews with celebrities and their activist guests. It was a focus of E!’s entire red carpet today.”
Perhaps E! felt it best to prioritize the voices of women who have been long silenced, who have been made to endure the bland “Who are you wearing?” inquiry for decades.
For over 20 years, the question has been a staple of E!’s awards season coverage, with Joan and Melissa Rivers kicking off their own version of the trend in 1996. “We were the only ones that did [red carpet commentary] in the beginning, and we came up with the phrase, ‘Who are you wearing?,’ and all that stuff,” Joan told E! in 2010. Melissa spoke on the subject with HuffPost last year, explaining that their red carpet show led the now-canceled “Fashion Police” to cement its place in award show culture.
“It’s been a part of my mom’s legacy and my mom’s life, and my legacy,” Melissa Rivers said. “And I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity.”
“Fashion Police” ended in November as it lost steam after the death of Joan Rivers in 2014. By then, her signature sharp, crass humor had already come under fire, particularly when comments like, “That neckline is plunging faster than Aretha Franklin’s head into a bucket of fried chicken,” and “She’s a chubby lady who’s very, very rich, and she should just calm down ― or lose weight,” poured out of her mouth. Despite Rivers’ wide and devoted fan base, many started to ask, “How far is too far?”
Alas, the #TimesUp movement sped up what was already a slow shift away from an awards show entertainment hallmark indelibly shaped by gendered objectification, and, at times, outright bullying.
Michelle Williams put it best, telling NBC: “We’ve been so excited about changing the carpet and turning something from just a fashion moment in a parade of dresses to something that means so much to all of us ― as women, as mothers, as sisters, as daughters.”
Actresses like Williams, Streep and Messing made the difference. There was a lot of pressure on the Globes ahead of time, as critics wondered whether the all-black carpet would be an empty gesture on its own. But what red carpet viewers ended up witnessing, at least in part, was something of a collective promise from women. They were not shy about the $16 million they’ve raised under the Time’s Up banner so far, and how it will be used to make the world a safer place for future generations.
In the era of #TimesUp, did we miss the conventional questions about dresses and jewels? No. Were we more engaged with the conversations between host and talent that took the old questions places? Yes.
But would we have liked to see men speak up on the issue, alongside the women committed to advocacy in a revolutionized Hollywood? Hell yes. We would have loved to have heard Tom Hanks’ response to being grilled as thoroughly as his female counterparts. Or Hugh Jackman speak about something other than his movie “The Greatest Showman.”
Sadly, as the actual awards ceremony unfolded, barely any of the male winners gave speeches that addressed sexual harassment, gender parity or the uncertain future of their industry, either.
There’s no telling how many men ― and women ― are complicit in the entertainment world’s gaping array of problems, and are allowed to hide behind black getups and Time’s Up pins. What we do know is that throughout the past several months, mostly women have been doing the hard work, speaking out against their abusers and supporting one another in an effort to move our culture forward. E! missed its opportunity to call on men to do the same.
If just for a moment, a glitzy side of Hollywood was dimmed, and humanity, inspiration and truth shone through. But let us not forget that black is a form of camouflage. There are more evils to fight. If Hollywood is truly invested in bettering and balancing out every industry, let’s make sure this red carpet shakeup isn’t just a passing thing.
#AskHerMore and #AskHimMore.