What does #Metoo mean for the Os­cars?

The 90th Academy Awards has four big prob­lems to fix, start­ing with his­tor­i­cal al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment, says Zoe Wil­liams

The Guardian - G2 - - Lost in showbiz -

The 90th Academy Awards cer­e­mony has, as I see it, four main prob­lems, though in the man­ner of large or­gan­i­sa­tions with four prob­lems you can see from space, these will prob­a­bly multiply wildly be­tween now and 4 March as they scram­ble to solve them.

The first is that the Golden Globes has now started a sol­i­dar­ity arms race, or it will be taken that way by the Os­cars, the or­gan­is­ing prin­ci­ple of which is to be big­ger and bet­ter. It wasn’t just that ev­ery­body wore black as a state­ment of sis­ter­hood, right down to the child cast of Stranger Things, who looked like #Metoo re­told a la Bugsy Malone. There were plenty of naysay­ers to the prin­ci­ple of sar­to­rial protest – it wasn’t a huge sac­ri­fice colour (that would have been peach), and you could use a black frock to stand shoul­der-to-shoul­der with vic­tims of sex­ual abuse, then you could wear it again to al­most any­thing. But the red-car­pet rit­ual was po­tent nev­er­the­less, just as vis­i­ble protests against racism are pow­er­ful in sport; it’s a world where usu­ally only mav­er­icks make state­ments and ev­ery­one else is care­fully view­less.

Any or­gan­ised, unan­i­mous po­lit­i­cal state­ment – even one as ba­sic as gen­der equal­ity – is strik­ing. So now the Os­cars ei­ther has to re­peat the theme, in which case ev­ery­one will be wear­ing black for ever, or they have to choose a dif­fer­ent colour (there isn’t one), or they have to not do that at all, where­upon theirs will be the world­view that was too glitzy and triv­ial to take on the big ques­tions of the in­dus­try. Other Golden Globe mo­ments are even harder to im­i­tate – the mode for groups of women to be pho­tographed com­ing in to­gether only works once as a state­ment of sol­i­dar­ity (af­ter that, they’re just some friends stand­ing next to each other, in the way of a Hol­lyoaks cast); the move by some ac­tors to bring a fem­i­nist ac­tivist as their date (se­ri­ously, how could you best that?).

All that is be­fore any­one gets through the front door: once in­side, they have the thornier prob­lem that the Os­cars ex­plic­itly ex­ist to “hon­our” the stars of the in­dus­try, a con­di­tion for which they must have no pre­vi­ous dis­hon­our. His­tor­i­cal al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment (Casey Af­fleck), al­le­ga­tions thereof con­tin­u­ing to be made (James Franco), in­ter­views in which an ac­tor spec­u­lated that Mel Gib­son was the vic­tim of a Jewish con­spir­acy (Gary Old­man) – all or any of this runs counter to the newly dis­cov­ered val­ues of the in­dus­try, throws out its judg­ments and makes hyp­ocrites of its proud­est voices. Given the decades of se­crecy and the wel­ter of new in­for­ma­tion com­ing in, to do due dili­gence on ev­ery nom­i­nee, al­lay any risk of a rogue tweet say­ing, “in­ter­est­ing to see x wear­ing a #Time­sup­now badge when he paid me less than my male co-star and then of­fered to rec­tify it in re­turn for a mas­sage”; well this is not im­pos­si­ble work, but there’s a lot of it. It’s like ask­ing peo­ple who spe­cialise in loud noises and pretty en­velopes to do re­search and field work roughly equiv­a­lent to 300 Phds in six weeks.

James Franco is a case study for prob­lem three. A show of strength at the Golden Globes, and (be­low) stars and ac­tivists ar­rive at the awards

In an in­ter­view with CBS’S The Late Show, he re­sponded to al­le­ga­tions of ha­rass­ment that snow­balled on Twit­ter af­ter his win for the Dis­as­ter Artist. His broad de­fence was that he can’t have done any­thing untoward, be­cause it was his na­ture that if he ever had, he wouldn’t be able to live a happy life with­out mak­ing amends. With more and more women com­ing for­ward, de­scrib­ing sim­i­lar be­hav­iour, he’s re­ly­ing on a heady cred­i­bil­ity gap to think that plead­ing his own char­ac­ter will mark an end to that. But the in­ter­est­ing bit was this: “The things that I heard that were on Twit­ter are not ac­cu­rate. But I com­pletely sup­port peo­ple com­ing out and be­ing able to have a voice be­cause they didn’t have a voice for so long. So I don’t want to – I don’t want to, you know, shut them down in any way.”

This is not an un­typ­i­cal Hol­ly­wood bind, now: that ev­ery­body wants to be the per­son who wants ev­ery vic­tim to come for­ward, but a great many don’t ac­tu­ally want to hear it. So there’s a cre­pus­cu­lar moral half-light of, “that per­son’s in­ac­cu­rate [ly­ing/crazy] but I’m re­ally in favour of her be­ing sup­ported in com­ing for­ward, and I def­i­nitely don’t want to shut her down be­cause of all those other [ly­ing/crazy] women who were shut down in the past.”

On that tip, prob­lem four: the high com­mand of nor­malised sex­ual as­sault has, in­deed, been de­cap­i­tated. But that’s al­most never the end of the story (for com­par­i­son: in 2011, Ru­pert Mur­doch’s press em­pire was in dis­grace, and it briefly looked as though ag­gres­sive tabloid jour­nal­ism had had its day. In fact, it was just re­group­ing and came back worse). Killing the shark is only the be­gin­ning of chang­ing the ocean, and for an in­sti­tu­tion whose core func­tion is self-con­grat­u­la­tion, change seems quite need­less and an­noy­ing.

On the other hand, the head­line pres­sures – fet­ing work with fe­male pro­tag­o­nists, re­mem­ber­ing to nom­i­nate fe­male di­rec­tors in­clud­ing Greta Ger­wig and not just their films and leads – all of that should be pretty straight­for­ward. One of the many bril­liant things to come out of the We­in­stein de­ba­cle is that it’s harder to ig­nore fe­male tal­ent now – and much eas­ier to sim­ply cel­e­brate it.

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