Print Edition - 2019-01-30  |  The Guardian

Who are the real good guys?

  • Hollywood is an industry that reeks of fear: only the bravest stand up to power
- Martha Gill

Jan 30, 2019-

Awards season is upon us—first the Golden Globes and now Oscar nominations—and it has struck me just how odd it is that these Hollywood functions have come to be connected to #MeToo and Time’s Up. Was there ever an industry so comically unsuited to driving an equality movement?

Take the struggles of the Academy to catch up with the times, one year in. The day after it selected Bohemian Rhapsody as a nominee for best picture (reviews had been scathing, but it did after all feature Aids and a bisexual storyline), multiple allegations of sexual assault emerged against its director, Bryan Singer. Singer denied the accusations, but they had not come out of the blue: rumours of sexual misconduct had followed him for some years.

Last month, no sooner had the Academy announced Kevin Hart as host—he would have been only the sixth African American in the job in some 91 years—reporters unearthed homophobic comments he had made on Twitter several years ago and he had to step down. Frozen by the not unlikely chance that its next candidate would turn out to be one of the “less acceptable” of the abusers and bigots who still dominate Hollywood, the Academy is now considering a “range” of hosts, presumably so as to spread the risk while appearing as inclusive as possible. It has nominated no female directors.

It is easy to see why some are welcomed even as others are cast out: it is because they are leading players and part of the fabric of Hollywood. It is safe to condemn figures of lesser importance who have been accused of comparable behaviour. Pointing the finger at major producers worth hundreds of millions and with many influential friends could affect your career.

The reason Hollywood cannot do activism is that it’s an industry that reeks of fear. You can work in it only if you happen to appear likable to a few powerful people, each of whom, by the way, is connected to all the other powerful people and free to say anything they like to them about you. Before you make it, their approval is the only metric by which you can measure your worth, and even once you have, disapproval usually means you do not work again. Impressing these people is not just a matter of exuding general appeal, but also—as always happens when you indulge someone with too much power—a matter of making them specifically feel good about themselves.

This is why the whole industry is so nauseatingly sycophantic and why at awards ceremonies actors will almost give themselves an aneurysm in their efforts to sufficiently grovel to their producers and directors. (Meryl Streep once called Harvey Weinstein “God”.) And this it is why it simply cannot cope with a brave social movement, let alone lead one: it is just too cowardly. Stars can do activism only when it is safe, which is no kind of activism at all. They can do it when the movement is essentially over: when all the main power players are on board and everyone else is wearing a black dress or a Time’s Up bracelet or making fierce (but crucially unspecific) speeches about making changes or women’s voices being heard. But they cannot do it when it matters.

During last year’s black dress protest at the Golden Globes, Rose McGowan tweeted that “not one of those fancy people wearing black to honour our rapes would have lifted a finger” had it not been for her and actress Asia Argento speaking out against Weinstein.

In a now deleted tweet, she also accused Streep of hypocrisy for “happily working” for Weinstein when it suited her. Megan Fox, who publicly accused film-maker Michael Bay of sexism 10 years ago, was too badly burned by the reaction to join the movement now. “I was ahead of my time so people weren’t ready,” she said. “Instead, I was rejected because of the qualities that are now being praised in other women coming forward.” This was in 2009.

Hollywood’s idea of feminism is to idolise the champions of yesteryear—Ruth Bader Ginsburg or the suffragettes. It is less keen on today’s heroes.

No wonder so many women in Hollywood have such low expectations. Patricia Clarkson, who won for best supporting actress at this year’s Globes, thanked her director for “demand[ing] everything of me except sex, which is exactly how it should be in our industry”. But it is not surprising that Hollywood is a few steps behind the times. Like the advertising industry, the business of selling films to mass audiences demands catering to received ideas. It will be a long time before it catches up.

Published: 30-01-2019 07:52

Next Story

User's Feedback

Click here for your comments

Comment via Facebook

Don't have facebook account? Use this form to comment