At the Golden Globe Awards on Sunday night, the order for attire by the women’s movement TIME’S UP was all black — as a protest against sexual violence both in Hollywood and across the country and to show solidarity with victims. Nearly all the guests at the event were dressed in black, wearing different textures and different placements of sequins to accent their protests. In fact, many women wore pants and suit jackets, typically masculine wear, to firmly illustrate the point that they were taking power for themselves and were not to be confined to typically feminine outlooks and outfits.
The issue with this protest was that, while it created a unified group, that group was not risking anything in making its fashion statement, speaking its opposition in a setting where the vast majority agreed. Sunday’s statement was timely and needed to be made, but felt almost cheap coming from a group that had nothing to lose by making it.
Award shows have, especially in recent years, become a place of protest. Last year, actors and actresses donned blue ACLU ribbons and Planned Parenthood pins alongside regular safety pins, all in protest of the recently elected administration. Fashion itself has been a tool of women’s protests since the suffrage movement, when protesters wore white to symbolize purity, green for hope and purple for dignity when they went marching.
Additionally, all-black attire isn’t itself a new idea — when the 2003 Academy Awards were held, even though many called for its cancellation because of the Iraq War, some donned black to signify their dissent, both against the war and against holding the awards at all.
But the most recent Golden Globes beg the question — how powerful can a protest be if those protesting aren’t truly risking anything in their opposition? Protests are powerful because despite the fact that there may be negative repercussions, protesters feel so strongly about the injustice that they take the risk regardless. During most protests, those standing up risk persecution and, lately, even police violence. None of Sunday’s star-studded protesters would have been hurt by this protest; there would have been no repercussions to their so-called act of defiance.
Sunday’s protest demanded only time and some dress options. For the men, though some wore black shirts and ties, there was even less risk — they would have dressed in black anyway. Though some victims of sexual violence were surely empowered by powerful women protesting in black, to phrase this uniformed fashion as an act of protest instead of a mere act of solidarity is a mistake.
While going to the awards and protesting peacefully in all black is one way to enact change, it is not the most powerful option — it is not the most that could have been done. Why not boycott the whole event, and show what Hollywood would really be like without women?
The counterpoint to this is that women have been silenced for so long in Hollywood that they deserve to go to an awards show honoring them. They deserve the chance to stand together and make a statement. This they did, with rousing speeches from powerful women such as Nicole Kidman and Oprah Winfrey, punctuated by snarky comments like Natalie Portman’s — “Here are the all male nominees for Best Director.” While the fashion collaboration was perhaps not the most effective form of showing dissent, it did unite a traditionally sexist industry in honoring those hurt by it.
The all-black attire was indeed not the only mention of sexism in the industry. White, male host (an odd choice, given the circumstances) Seth Meyers started off the evening by welcoming the ladies and “remaining gentlemen,” and cries of “Me too” and “Time’s up” rang throughout the ceremony.
On its own, wearing all black doesn’t make that much of a difference. It will be the constant, reiterated acknowledgement of the inequality in the entertainment industry and the support of the women who came forward, by presenters and recipients, that will have a lasting impact in the times to come.
Nearly every actress winning or giving an award mentioned how it was time for a change, with Oprah’s Cecil B. DeMille Award acceptance speech becoming a rallying cry to women everywhere to stand up for themselves and fight for equality, not only in Hollywood but within all fields. While aesthetic unity creates pretty photographs, it is prolonged dialogue and organizations like the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund that will really make a change.