Famous Last Words: Meryl Streep Nominated For 5 Times More Oscars Than Every Female Director Put Together
Welcome to Famous Last Words, our weekly column on what's been going on in the world of pop culture. This week we look at the dream that was the Golden Globes and bow down to Queen Serena Williams.
It’s been an emotional week for women and the gays, and a lot of that’s down to Oprah. Already known for her frame-shifting, uplifting, astute ability to push anything through a Winfrey-shaped prism and offer us avid viewers a new way of seeing, her Golden Globes speech — given in acceptance of her Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award — took all the things we wish we knew how to say and said them in a way we wish we could. And while the internet met the speech with cries of “Oprah for President 2020”, while other outlets proclaimed her the bastion of apolitical neoliberalism, what should be pinpointed is Oprah’s vital representation of a vast spectrum of women in her speech – women affected by lifetimes of sexual assault, women whose names will never be read out at an awards show. At the height of the incredibly effective #whywewearblack red carpet protest, Oprah congratulated Hollywood but reminded everyone watching that this moment must be for and about women everywhere: women from all classes, religions, professions, races. “What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have,” she emoted. “So I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed, and bills to pay, and dreams to pursue.”
It was probably the first time ever that ideals of inclusion and feminism were at the centre of the awards ceremony, or any awards ceremony in Hollywood for that matter. Backstage, the Golden Globes asked attendees to fill in the blank “To ensure the best future for women in Hollywood, we must…”, to which the divine Viola Davis simply replied “inclusion!” Shows like The Handmaid’s Tale, Big Little Lies, and The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel received awards, and Herculean speeches by winners from Laura Dern to Elisabeth Moss rallied the Time’s Up cry in a stronger way than could have been imagined. These stars, and this historic night, paved another stretch of the road towards proper representation for women in Hollywood.
What was missing, however, as Natalie Portman savagely pointed out, was female nominees in all categories. As Portman arrived on stage to present the award for Best Director, the audience audibly gasped as she calmly breathed: “…and here are the all-male nominees,” her voice lilting with a knowing groan. It was the same for women of colour, whose voices and work were far less well represented than their white co-stars and friends. While the Golden Globes allowed us to envision what a female-led future in Hollywood might feel like — and my goddess did it feel good — there’s still a lot of work to do on the awards and nominations side.
Unless you’re Meryl Streep, who this week on the Jimmy Kimmel show admitted she literally couldn’t recall how many Oscar nominations she’s had, and what they were for (she’s had 20, by the way). In the end she recalled about five, which is also — it turns out — one more than the number of women who’ve been nominated for Best Director in the Oscars’ 89-year history. This week’s BAFTA nominations were also the same — the category of Best Director offering five white men nominations. It’s a point that can’t be laboured enough, that while the social side of the system changes — looking to movements like Time’s Up to lead the entertainment industry into a new dawn — the business side must follow suit, otherwise award shows end up feeling somewhat defunct and unrepresentative.
Someone who did get it right this week, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, is American Vogue with its glorious cover of Serena Williams and her daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr, who became the youngest Vogue cover star in history as a result. While British Vogue got it a little wrong with its "Why We Need To Talk About Race" cover line, alongside an image of two white women, its American sister celebrated a range of families. For a magazine which is based on the aspirational position, the decision to represent women of colour on its cover is an incredibly important one.
In a week where awards season has begun, let’s just pray that, unlike Lena Dunham and Jack Antonoff’s relationship, these steps for change don’t end here. Time’s Up!