“I love Men:” Film Awards Season & Female Empowerment
After the Golden Globes, it was the National Boards of Review Awards’ turn to denounce the sexual malfeasance in Hollywood. The annual dinner and gala, that took place at Cipriani 42nd Street, not only celebrated excellence in filmmaking, but continued the conversation of the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up Coalition.
The event hosted by Willie Geist honored Best Director recipient, Greta Gerwig, Best Actor recipient, Tom Hanks, Best Actress recipient, Meryl Streep, Best Supporting Actor recipient, Willem Dafoe, Best Supporting Actress recipient, Laurie Metcalf, Best Screenplay recipient, Paul Thomas Anderson, Best Adapted Screenplay recipients, Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, Best Breakthrough Performance recipient, Timothée Chalamet, Best Directorial Debut recipient, Jordan Peele, Freedom of Expression recipients John Ridley, and Angelina Jolie, Loung Ung, Best Animated Feature recipient, Lee Unkrich, Best Film recipients Steven Spielberg, Amy Pascal and Kristie Macosko Krieger, Best Documentary recipient Brett Morgen, Best Foreign Language Film recipient Samuel Maoz, Best Ensemble recipients Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Betty Gabriel, Stephen Root and LilRel Howery, and Spotlight Award recipients Patty Jenkins & Gal Gadot.
But the real stars of the evening were politics and social issues. Robert De Niro firmly criticized President Donald Trump, whilst Meryl Streep confronted the gender debate by praising the men who have been her mentors and collaborators. “I love men,” said Streep and added “I know it’s the year of the woman and everything, but oh my God. The men. All my mentors have been men, even my sixth grade music teacher Paul Grossman, who let me sing five versions of ‘O Holy Night’ in French, German and something else. And he became a woman, the first man in New Jersey to have surgery and become a woman.”
Meryl Streep opened a new chapter on the gender debate, using more diplomacy than Catherine Deneuve, to reprise a balance between the sexes rather than having emasculating feminism take over the conversation. Madame Deneuve has been very much criticized for signing with a hundred French women an opinion piece in Le Monde, defending “men’s rights to ‘hit on’ women” [importuner] considering it “indispensable to sexual freedom.” Some have interpreted this statement as an apologia for sexual assault and harassment. However that was not the intention of the op-ed that further explained: “Rape is a crime. But hitting on someone insistently or awkwardly is not an offense, nor is gallantry a chauvinist aggression.” The mistake Deneuve and her co-signers probably made was to depreciate #MeToo feminism as “a hatred of men and of sexuality.” On the other hand their attempt to condemn the media trial, and lead victims of abuse back to the institutions who are in charge, brought up a very important matter.
Internet shaming should not substitute the Court. Unfortunately, the law sometimes fails in punishing the culprits and, during our digital era, victims choose to turn to social media to take justice into their own hands. But accusations done after decades from the alleged fact, confront the lack of evidence. It is important for any victim of abuse to denounce the circumstance immediately, in order to punish aggressors and prevent them from harming other innocents. It is just as important to re-read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 11, states: “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.” It may seem shallow to imagine that a person in showbiz would utilize the abuse card for publicity, but human nature is warped and one should also take into consideration that a few exceptions of accusers could fall into this category.
History has always confined women to endure men’s power in silence. But there have also been females who have used their seduction to their advantage. Women have never been completely unaware of the power of their sexuality. Agrippina inveigled her uncle into marriage and convinced him to name her son Nero Emperor; Cleopatra seduced powerful men to protect her Kingdom; Madame de Pompadour became an advisor to King Louis XV while being his chief mistress; exotic dancer and German spy Mata Hari cajoled men during World War I in order to obtain their state secrets. And the casting couch mentality has been around ever since the beginning of the film industry. It did not become unacceptable with the Weinstein case. The concept has always been immoral.
When producers would make sexual advances to young or vulnerable actresses in return for a role in a film, these ladies were free to decline. A different argument could be done if they were raped in their offices. But the intricacy of the debate lies in how free will has been misused by the aspiring stars. Accepting appointments in hotels may seem a tacit consent to a more intimate kind of rendez-vous. Humans have more sophisticated communication skills than other creatures on Earth: they often use allusion rather than blatantly expressing their brutal instincts. Hence, choosing a hotel as a meeting place, as opposed to an office space, is an outright message for mating.
Nevertheless the entire matter becomes knotty because of the psychological pressure involved. The abuser can threat to end the career or smear the name of the talent who declines the sexual advances. Furthermore this despicable behavior in the industry (which mirrors all professional fields) encloses a complicit mechanism where assistants, friends, colleagues, who know about the assault refuse to act out of fear. The truth is that at the end everyone is guilty: the aggressor, the accomplices, and even the victim, who has chosen to sell his or her soul to Faust in exchange for stardom, rather than risking the end of a career.
So far many show business victims have succeeded in taking Goliath down, and yet other allegations of sexual abuse have not had consequences, yet. Comedian and actor Bill Cosby’s trial for the alleged 2004 sexual assault of a woman at his Cheltenham mansion, did not provide a resolution to those charges. Woody Allen — who has been criticized by the same journalist, Ronan Farrow (his son!), who published the investigative piece in The New Yorker detailing allegations of sexual misconduct by Harvey Weinstein — is jumping from one project to the next. Allen has long denied the allegations by his daughter, Dylan Farrow, who twenty years later accused her father of having assaulted her when she was seven years old. Denial seems the key to being immune to exile from Tinseltown, since what framed Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K. was admitting and apologizing for their acts. Some have also argued that the Hollywood system did not think twice in dethroning actors who could no longer be considered bankable because of their age or their declining star power.
James Franco —aged 39 — was accused, via Twitter, of sexual misbehavior after accepting the Golden Globe award. When he was a guest on The Late Night, hosted by Stephen Colbert, he denied it. But his innocence gets dubitable if one thinks back to 2014, when he apologized for having tried to arrange a hotel hookup with a 17-year-old girl on Instagram. Even though The New York Times canceled a TimesTalk conversation with The Disaster Artist director and star, Franco attended the National Board of Review Awards gala in New York City without any complication. Whether he will continue to work in the industry will be the real game changer. The James Franco case might be the litmus test to determine whether Hollywood is truly intentioned to denounce sexual abuse in the business or to do so only with those who are no longer profitable.
In terms of Hollywood’s revenue, pay disparity has been another gender issue in the eye of the storm. Jessica Chastain called out the producers of Ridley Scott’s All The Money In The World over the different pay scale between Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg, who were signed on to film reshoots for the movie — after Christopher Plummer substituted Kevin Spacey for the role of J. Paul Getty. Mark Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million for reshooting his scenes, whereas Michelle Williams was paid an $80 per diem, totaling less than $1,000.
These circumstances resonate a story that belongs to all workplaces in every part of the world and in all cultures. The Award Season has activated a locomotion of female empowerment where red carpets and glamorous stages have become the platform to voice out discontent towards inequality. The Golden Globes opted for a black dress code to denounce Hollywood’s sexual misconduct, whilst the National Board of Review Award ceremony — that isn’t televised — produced speeches that were more unrestrained than they might have been elsewhere. We’ll see what happens next at the Baftas in February and at the Academy Awards in March…