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The Cognitive Dissonance of the #MeToo Golden Globes

After a loud, symbolic Golden Globes ceremony, there’s a resounding feeling of “What now?” How will the industry respond in the days, months, and year to come?

Tarana Burke and Michelle Williams Getty Images/Ringer illustration

At Sunday night’s Golden Globes, as the Hollywood elite walked the carpet in synchronized swaths of black, many observers compared the effect to that of a funeral. (“How do you rank the clothes at a funeral?” The Cut’s Stella Bugbee said, explaining why her site would be refraining from critiquing the night’s fashions. “You don’t.”) And yet that’s what made the overall tone of the night so jarring: All around these scenes of mass mourning, the old, outdated Hollywood awards-show machine continued to churn. It was, at times, the tonal equivalent of an open-casket selfie. Men with questionable pasts were still honored with gold statues. Chirpy reporters from Access Hollywood continued to extend rhinestoned microphones in people’s faces and ask benign questions about snacks. Activists like #MeToo originator Tarana Burke walked the carpet, but E! News still minimized the screen as soon as she started speaking, because it apparently thought we’d like to get a better look at what Dakota Johnson was wearing. The night was full of these moments of cognitive dissonance. The celebratory “we fixed sexism” tone too often felt premature. There is still much work to be done. It is rude to roll out the buffet table before the funeral service has concluded.

Women and men adopted the urgent but vague slogan “Time’s Up,” and yet the refrain that kept coming to my mind was “What now?” There was a sense of finality to the proceedings, but awards season (to say nothing of the patriarchy) is far from over. Will the Oscars be a blackout too, or, come early March, will actresses go back to dressing in color and bringing their romantic partners as dates? Will this awareness be as fleeting as any other Hollywood trend? Is the protest-frock just the new naked dress? Will any of the men put themselves on the line in the way so many of their female colleagues have, or will they continue to mistake the 0.5 seconds it takes to affix a button to their lapels as labor?

For an awards show that paid such lip service to combating toxic masculinity in Hollywood, it was striking that both of the men who won the night’s Lead Actor awards — Gary Oldman in the Drama category and James Franco in Musical/Comedy — have been linked to narratives about bad behavior toward women. As each of them accepted his statue (with speeches that did not make mention of harassment or the #TimesUp movement, save for the tiny buttons on their jackets), people on Twitter served up counter-narratives. During Oldman’s speech, a Daily Beast article circulated, reminding viewers that in 2001 Oldman’s then-wife, Donya Fiorentino, alleged that he assaulted her in front of their children, and in 2014 he’d given a controversial interview in which he defended Mel Gibson’s infamous hate-speech-laden rant. As Franco spoke, the actress Ally Sheedy tweeted (and later deleted), “James Franco just won. Please never ask me why I left the film/TV business.” Others revived a widely reported story from 2014, when Franco tried to orchestrate a hookup with a teenage girl via Instagram. He later admitted this was a case of “bad judgment.”

Since the acting categories are split by gender, awards-show season is making progress in Hollywood appear decidedly lopsided. On the very same stages that the #MeToo movement and the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund are given a public platform, men named in reports about harassment and violence against women are still honored with the industry’s highest awards. At the Oscars, it is a vaguely chivalrous and thus outdated tradition that the year’s Best Actor winner gives out the next Best Actress statue, and vice versa. This means that, in this year of unprecedented public reckoning about workplace sexual harassment, the Best Actress award will still be presented by Casey Affleck, a man who has been sued for sexual harassment twice. If Franco and Oldman are now this year’s Best Actor front-runners, the Best Actress handover could be just as bleakly surreal in 2019.

If this year’s Golden Globes were a testament to anything, it was the disproportionate responsibilities assumed by Hollywood’s men and women. Laura Dern and Nicole Kidman spoke eloquently and passionately about portrayals of domestic abuse, while their costar Alexander Skarsgard mumbled a confusing acceptance speech and fielded questions on the red carpet like, “How do you keep things light on set?” No man stuck his neck out anywhere near as far as Natalie Portman did when she presented the Best Director award and ad-libbed, “Here are the all-male nominees” — perhaps the most genuinely insurrectionist moment of the night. Oprah Winfrey, the first black woman to be awarded the Cecil B. DeMille Award, gave a stump speech so rousing that it had some people fantasizing about a presidential run. Seth Meyers was a fine host, but his monologue didn’t make me wonder about his future in public office.

With these women as their guides, men need to step up and contribute to the often laborious and uncomfortable work of progress. This is as true in Hollywood as it is in all industries. Journalists on the red carpet and elsewhere should hold male nominees accountable for their pasts and the controversial men they choose to work with; they should also not give men any points for such simple gestures as putting on a black tuxedo shirt or fastening a pin.

During the preshow leading up to the Golden Globes, Denzel Washington was one of the few men asked about the elephant on the red carpet. Commendably, he avoided the feel-good truisms usually offered on awards-show telecasts. “It’s important tonight, but it’s important to follow through,” he said, unmoved by the trendy fervor of the evening. “It’s important to see what’s going to happen a year from tonight.”

The Golden Globes were equal parts inspiring and maddening, because although they spoke of progress, they also revealed its incremental pace and mixed messages. Like Washington, I feel deeply cautious in my optimism. Let’s see what things look like a year from tonight. Or even in two months.