by Kasey Robinson
I, like many others, was blown away by the speech that Oprah gave at this year’s Golden Globes. As a Black woman myself, who works in gender education and domestic violence prevention, Oprah’s words rang sweetly in my ears like a musical tune that for so long felt like I had been screaming alone and out of pitch.
“Their time is up,” she declared, “Their time is up!” This statement was met with a standing ovation from the audience and numerous close up shots of some of Hollywood’s most elite with tears in their eyes. At least that was true of the women. The images we saw of the men were without doubt well performed, but to me lacked integrity and any real sign of emotional engagement. Why? Well, because these men are exactly who Oprah was talking about. While the whole ceremony was centered around the launching of the Time’s Up Now movement what the Golden Globes showed us once again is that white men are still the ruling power. They dominate every category, greatly outnumber those working behind the camera, and are the ones who should be most accountable in the wake of the sexual harassment claims that have resulted in this rising trend of solidarity. In recognising the overwhelming presence of these men, I began to better understand the other focus of the evening: the focus on women – white women.
Hollywood has always had an intersectionality problem. While many actresses call for an increased focus on the stories of women and the recognition of female directors and producers, seldom do we see the same call for the lack of diversity in these roles. Hollywood today, as seen at the Golden Globes, is a rebirth of second wave feminism; white women’s struggle to gain parity with their male counterparts through a movement that mobilises the work and presence of women of colour to meet their own agendas.
The proof: actresses such as Emma Watson and Michelle Williams quite literally escorted women of colour down the red carpet like accessories. These Black women, such as #metoo creator Tarana Burke and executive director of Imkaan Marai Larasi are both women of merit in their own right, but in this feeble attempt at demonstrating acts of solidarity with women of colour, the line I could hear in the back of my head was ‘Black message, white envelope’. For those unfamiliar with this line, it is that which was regularly used to describe some of the very first slave narratives that in order to be published required a preface written by a white
man in order to secure and prove its legitimacy. I was in several moments physically disturbed watching actresses like Watson be asked to introduce Larasi. In that moment her purity, her porcelain-like white skin and sultry red lips served as the perfect appetiser to loosen the audience for the few words that Larasi got to speak. In a similar way, as an article in Teen Vogue also pointed out, within three seconds of Burke speaking the screen was reduced to an eighth of its size and slung in the bottom left corner, while the audience was redirected to an enlarged image of white actress Dakota Johnson swirling in her dress in front of the camera. The voice was given back to white women and Burke was left where she started in the Sunken Place waiting once more for a white woman to allow her back out.
While it is undeniable that this is still a way that these women’s voices have been mobilised and introduced to audiences that perhaps would never come across them alone, the veil of whiteness that was cast over them in order to have their voices heard leaves me feeling skeptical for what’s to come. If these women in Hollywood are true allies and stand for a real feminist expression of solidarity, then perhaps they need to reconsider their stance: we must remember that solidarity is about “standing with” and not “speaking for”. As Hazel Carby asks to white feminists, ‘who do you mean when you say “we”?’ In an informal conversation with one of my professors Dr Marsha Henry on this topic, she expressed quite poignantly that ‘there’s no perfect moment that isn’t spoiled by the spectre of whiteness’. The “progress” that was made during this ceremony was overshadowed by the egotism of white feminism and the painful truth that white men still hold power over Hollywood and show no signs of making any changes to that any time soon. Let us not forget that it was the women in Hollywood that started the Time’s Up Now movement, it was the female award recipients that referenced Hollywood’s problem with representation and sexual harassment, it was the women of colour that exposed themselves on the red carpet with their stories of triumph and persistence for a more inclusive society, and what did the men do? They only showed up. As usual men, performed the bare minimum, occupied a role that, had it been that of a woman, would have been hotly scrutinised. Even those men who it seemed obvious would be vocal about this problem, Alexander Skarsgård for example, ‘who notably won for playing an abuser […] yet had nothing to say in his acceptance speech about male violence’ (Song, S 2018). Yet again a problem that involves both sexes is still a woman’s problem.
I hoped to remain optimistic about this year’s Golden Globes. I wanted to stay inspired in the months after Oprah’s speech driving myself on her words of wisdom, courage and desire for change, but under all the hype surrounding what was a phenomenal speech I remain pessimistic and underwhelmed in the face of the pervasive power of whiteness.