Actresses are taking a stand against sexual assault in the film and TV industries by wearing black to the awards
In 2016 celebrities such as Will Smith, Spike Lee, Ryan Coogler and Ava DuVerney boycotted the Oscars after not a single non-white actor was nominated for an award for the second year in a row. In 2017, Moonlight became the Oscars (eventual) darling, and the academy announced they would be doubling their female and minority members by 2020.
While these incidents do not directly correlate – there were a variety of reasons as to why the Oscars realised things needed to change, not least the uproar on social media and the #OscarSoWhite hashtag – the boycott certainly sent a strong message. Much like Solange's response to her sister Beyoncé's Grammy snub in the same year, black people decided in 2016 that they would not play by the rulebook. The boycott was a tenacious show of non-engagement; the premise that without key actors and directors, such awards ceremonies couldn't even exist.
Fast forward to January 2018 and it's been announced that black attire will be worn by Hollywood's biggest stars to the Golden Globes, thanks to the 300 women in television, film and theatre who launched the gloriously intersectional Time’s Up anti-sexual assault initiative. The group, which includes women like Emma Stone, Shonda Rhimes, Reese Witherspoon, America Ferrera, Eva Longoria, Ashley Judd and Rashida Jones, states that “the clock has run out on sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace” in the wake of Harvey Weinstein's misdemeanours and the #MeToo era.
The effect of their proclaimed ‘blackout’ has been immediate: the Hollywood Reporter spoke to a representative of an LA fashion showroom who said that “every request we’ve received thus far has been for black”. It's a shade which often signifies mourning and is less seen on red carpets than colourful ensembles. As explored in Vogue, Jane Fonda famously wore a sombre lack Yves Saint Laurent pantsuit as a way of protesting the Vietnam War and when the 2003 Academy Awards fell during the Iraq war, the majority of the guests chose to wear black.
“True allyship must extend beyond marches, hashtags, and minimally inconvenient wardrobe choices” – Nicholas Pearce, Fortune
But at first look, and considering there was a Golden Globes boycott in 2008 to show support for striking writers, it's understandable why the response to the ‘blackout’ has been mixed. Notably, according to Fortune Magazine there are also no women among this year’s five nominees in the prestigious Best Director category and since 1944, only four women have ever been nominated at all.
“True allyship must extend beyond marches, hashtags, and minimally inconvenient wardrobe choices,” wrote Nicholas Pearce in Fortune. “Such moments of embodied solidarity may often originate from a sincere desire to be helpful and may provide meaningful socioemotional support, but often do little to remedy the structural inequality that precipitated these moments of protest in the first place.”
Elizabeth Day, writing for The Telegraph, was even more scathing. “We’re entering an era of millennial protest-lite, where the most important thing is the selfie you take rather than the awareness you raise,” she wrote.
But in many ways, the thinking behind the blackout seems solid. There is a practical nature to Time's Up, including a fund which will provide subsidised legal support across industries to those who have experienced sexual harassment, assault, or abuse in the workplace. And the women behind Time's Up did consider a full-on boycott too. “We decided we didn’t want to boycott, because there were a lot of our peers who were being nominated,” Scandal’s Kerry Washington told the LA Times. “We thought it was stronger to participate, but make sure we had a public sign of support.”
When it comes to #OscarsSoWhite for instance, it made more sense to boycott the Oscars when a lack of black nominees was revealed because it was to do with a literal absence. If the Golden Globes upset had been to do with the lack of women directors nominated, the same response would have felt necessary. However, in this case, women want to show up, unafraid and defiant despite the fact that Weinstein and men like him all over the world have brought us to a place where an estimated 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner.
“It made more sense to boycott the Oscars when a lack of black nominees was revealed because it was to do with a literal absence”
“This is not a silent protest,” Rashida Jones, another key member of Time's Up told InStyle Magazine on Thursday. “I don’t think why we wear black is divisive as much as it is being discussed and debated without all the facts. Many women on the red carpet will discuss what’s important to them about their choice to protest and wear black.
“We wear black to stand in solidarity with our sisters and to say time’s up on this imbalance of power and the abuses that come with it, regardless of what industry you work in,” Jones added.