Televised award shows can be, if nothing else, a good way to take the temperature of the industries they celebrate. Looking back, last year’s Golden Globes ceremony felt like the performative apex of the #MeToo movement, in which the women of Hollywood wore black and proudly displayed Time’s Up pins, while deriding Harvey Weinstein and his ilk in impassioned speeches. At this year’s Globes, the top prize, for best dramatic film, went to Bohemian Rhapsody, directed by accused rapist and abuser Bryan Singer. What does that tell us about where we are at right now?
Unlike the allegations against Kevin Spacey (who Singer directed in the Usual Suspects in 1995), allegations against Singer haven’t really “stuck” the way they might have if they emerged anew during the height of #MeToo. Yet for many years, allegations that Singer preyed on young men have been an “open secret” in Hollywood. In 2014, a man accused Singer of raping him when he was a minor (the lawsuit was later dropped). In 2017, another man accused Singer of raping him when he victim was 17. Amid all this, Singer continues to rake in that X-Men money and be attached to major film and TV projects. While he was quietly fired from Bohemian Rhapsody a couple of weeks before shooting finished, for murky reasons, he’s still credited as director. Accepting their awards, Rami Malek and the film’s producers chose to deal with this uncomfortable fact by simply not mentioning their director’s name. The fact that Singer continues to work in Hollywood is evidence of a trend that has been starkly apparent throughout the evolution of #MeToo: the unevenness with which public opprobrium is meted out, and the fact that the public response to alleged abusers is based less on the nature of their crimes than when and how allegations emerge to the public. From home, Singer posted on Instagram: “What an honor. Thank you,” along with a photo of him in the director’s chair.
In a lot of ways, this year’s Globes was a reminder of just how slow change is in so many areas — one step forward always followed by many steps back. The two top winning films, Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody, have both been derided by the marginalized communities they depict. As Vulture TV writer Kathryn VanArendonk wrote on Twitter, “Good morning to Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody, two movies that let Hollywood feel like it’s voting for progressive ideas, but which are actually insidious repudiations of everything the last year’s reckoning has attempted to address.” Apart from some deserving celebrations of the achievements of women of color, from the likes of Sandra Oh and Regina King, the ceremony was largely apolitical, which is unsurprising when remembering that awards shows are, after all, publicity vehicles designed to sell a message. (Let’s not forget who basically invented the modern awards show — Harvey Weinstein). Apart from the few outspoken celebs who make headlines with off-the-cuff speeches or ad-libs, awards shows are hardly a locus of revolution. As I wrote last year: “While events like awards shows and red carpets prompt a desire for clean categorization — best- and worst-dressed lists, highs and lows, snubs and surprises, woke and oblivious — last night’s ceremony shows the difficulty of trying to constrain an epidemic as far-reaching, complex, and amorphous as sexual harassment and misogyny to such neat confines.”
Yet while Singer’s victory may feel like a low point for progress, I’m not totally without optimism. Last year I wrote about how watching the show on social media made visible the whisper networks happening online, how #MeToo and social media were enabling a real-time counter-narrative to what was happening on-screen. These whisper networks are incredibly powerful; sexual-misconduct allegations against James Franco only became common knowledge after they were pointed out on Twitter during the ceremony. And last night, as soon as Bohemian Rhapsody was announced, tweets about Singer began pouring in. This morning, there are even more. Unlike a few years ago, when these voices would have been a whisper, now they are a loud chorus, impossible to ignore.
Real change won’t come from the Hollywood Foreign Press association, or the Academy, or any of the industry’s outdated leading bodies; it will come from all of us, our eyes finally opened, telling them how we feel about the egregious choices they make.