‘New day’ for women declared
More cartoons online at Angela Mudukuti is an international criminal justice lawyer at the Wayamo Foundation, formerly with the Southern Africa Litigation Centre and the International Criminal Court
AWARD shows can be incredibly dull, but this year’s Golden Globes showcased the power of celebrity and the impact famous voices can have when they are utilised to raise awareness.
One of the most memorable and significant celebrity speeches of our time was delivered by Oprah Winfrey when she accepted the Cecil B DeMille Award for her contribution to the entertainment world.
She used the opportunity to shed light on societal ills, denouncing racism, and saluting brave victims of sexual assault.
The event began with a vast majority of the nominees and invited guests wearing black to raise awareness about the anti-sexual harassment campaign “Time’s Up” and engaging in what is popularly referred to as “red carpet activism”. Several celebrities chose to bring gender and equality activists as their “plus ones” in solidarity.
Time’s Up is a movement helping victims of sexual harassment in the workplace, including establishing a legal defence fund which subsidises fees for such individuals.
This movement was inspired by the 2017 #MeToo campaign that mobilised millions of people globally to stand against sexual assault and harassment.
#MeToo was created by civil rights activist Tarana Burke in 2006 and was popularised by actress Alyssa Milano in October 2017, when she encouraged women who have been victims of sexual harassment to tweet those two simple words.
Those two words have been tweeted by millions of people, particularly in the wake of the shocking sexual harassment allegations levelled against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.
More than 80 women accused Weinstein of sexual harassment and/or assault and/ or molestation.
Time magazine’s 2017 Person of Year was a group of women representing millions of other “silence breakers” who moved past the shame, self-blame and pain of sexual harassment and abuse and shared their heart-breaking yet inspiring stories with the world.
And what better cause to champion on a platform such as the Golden Globes. Many presenters and award recipients took a moment to reflect on the importance of putting an end to sexual harassment, but the night reached its crescendo when Winfrey took the floor.
She acknowledged the plight of victims and recognised the bravery of the women who have spoken up and refused to suffer in silence.
Sexual harassment and sexual violence is widespread. According to a 2015 survey reported by Time’s Up, one in three women between the ages 18 and 34 have been sexually harassed at work, and 71% did not report it.
South Africa is sadly no stranger to sexual harassment and violence, and has some of the highest rape statistics in the world. In 2016/17, 49 660 sexual offences were recorded by the police, but how many more go unreported?
As the first African-American woman to be bestowed with the Cecil B DeMille award, the obvious challenges of racial inequality in Hollywood and in many parts of the world, could not be overlooked.
The award has been bestowed 64 times on an annual basis (except in 1976 and 2008) since 1952. Only four African-Americans have ever received it. Actor Sidney Poitier was the first, in 1982, a point Winfrey mentioned in her speech.
The fact that in 2018 the world is still counting African-American or black firsts in various fields, professions and positions is a sign of how far the world is from some semblance of true equality.
The indomitable Winfrey has other firsts under her belt. She was the first woman to own and produce her own talk show and Forbes’s first African-American female billionaire.
The relevance of Winfrey’s remarks, against the backdrop of 2017, which saw its fair share of vitriolic hate speech and persecution on the basis of race, was more than just appropriate – it was necessary. Winfrey took the audience all the way back to Rosa Parks, an African-American civil rights activist who resisted bus segregation in 1955 in Alabama by refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger.
Winfrey also told the lesser known story of Recy Taylor, an African-American mother and wife who was gang-raped by six white men 1944 in Alabama. Her assailants were never brought to justice. Taylor died just 10 days before Winfrey’s speech.
These powerful recollections received a standing ovation as long-lasting applause filled the glitzy Beverly Hilton ballroom.
Winfrey aptly and eloquently captured the systemic inequality that plagues society today and professed that a “new day is on the horizon”.
After her inspiring speech, social media and news platforms were abuzz with the thought of Winfrey becoming the first female African-American president of the US in 2020. Another long awaited first the world is yet to see.
SIGNIFICANT: Oprah Winfrey, winner of the Cecil B DeMille Award at the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards last weekend, whose acceptance speech centred on the Time’s Up campaign.