#MeToo to the Red Carpet: Awards Season Fashion

CultureTV & Film

#MeToo to the Red Carpet: Awards Season Fashion

How the red carpet became a site of political activism.

No place in recent memory has been shaken up quite like Hollywood. Harvey Weinstein’s miraculous and long-needed downfall has galvanized an astonishing whirlwind of accusations and incriminations, providing leeway for women in the industry who have long remained silent to finally speak. These silver screen women have often been underestimated by us, the hungry, unaware, popcorn-chomping audience. Long gone are the assumptions that a stellar career is forged effortlessly, sans the obstructions of predatory people of power. There are now men to be reckoned with and silences to be held in honor for those who have spoken. While they articulate their long-unheard stories, we listen, and for once, we even venture to truly believe–to empathize. The momentum triggered by the Weinstein exposé has appropriately been dubbed “The Weinstein Effect,” and by all accounts, it has hit Hollywood at the center of its self-congratulatory, all-assured, up-until-now-unaffected hubris: the Awards Season circuit.

Awards Season is a time of images. It is the five-month circus spectacle featuring parading actors, actresses, producers, directors, studio moguls–the most powerful puppeteers of the industry–walking down camera-laced carpets, posing sedentary for lavish dinners, praising one another incessantly, accepting sinuous metal-carved tokens, and (arguably or unarguably off-camera) getting drunk. Nothing epitomizes the booziness, the lavishness, or the outright hubris more than the Golden Globe Awards, taking over NBC primetime for one early-January night every year. It kicks off the much-anticipated Oscar countdown, the series of predictions and calculations geared to answering the answerless question: who really will win? More than anything, the Globes, hosted by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, allows the commingling of the TV-folk and the Film-folk, a somewhat separated set of seemingly-similar peoples. In quintessence, the Globes brings together the best of both screens–the faces that occupy the most mainstream of English-language video entertainment.

The red carpet means more than we think. It is the forefront of the images, the commencement of the spectacle. It is an instrument of advertisement, of statement, of making impressions. Anything from a fashion faux pas, to the public debut of a new portmanteau-christened celebrity couple, can be catapulted to the world as news on unheard levels–tabloids, newspapers, news channels, blogs, the entire Internet–all watching the red carpet. We wait and we revere and we swoon and we get shocked. Remember when she wore black Versace held together by only oversized safety pins? Remember when they coordinated with sleek suits, both him and hers? Fashion is the largest part of that curated image, of that means of impressing instantaneously through image upon the spectator-rendered outside world. And as of late, fashion has been used in savvy new ways, to raise questions–and to engage directly with us spectators.

Perhaps the most obvious on-carpet means of aligning to a cause is by accessory pins. Following the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting, celebrities arrived at the Globes with ‘Je suis Charlie’ pins in solidarity with the victims. Following Trump’s unexpected climb to the highest office of the land, select carpet-walkers accessorized with the simple blue ALCU ribbon, reaffirming civil liberties for peoples of all backgrounds. But this year, in response to the reckoning on sexual assault that Hollywood and the larger world faced, in honor of #MeToo and #TimesUp it was planned that black would be the de facto color of outfit.

Amal Clooney, human rights lawyer, wears a Charlie Hebdo pin in solidarity with the Paris attacks.
Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Black means a lot of things. It means respect, through the implication of mourning or loss. It means neutrality, through the lack of vibrancy evoked by distracting colors. It also means that women, who are continuously scrutinized and serve as the subject of practical visual dissection, do not have to serenade through choice of outfit. Instead of the controversial deluge of women-only-addressed questions, like What are you wearing? (occasionally featuring the panning down of now-defunct red carpet glam cams), the more important questions would, in fact, be unsaid. Through color, the women of the 2018 Golden Globes exuded solidarity.

Inevitably, there comes the question of tokenism. How far can color, or lack thereof, go? It was made clear through a series of rousing acceptance speeches that the women of Hollywood would not forget. But the men? They played their part in engaging in the visual spectacle, sporting ‘Time’s Up’ pins, and wearing black (if that counts as going out of one’s way when the standard get-up is suit-and-tie). But beyond that, there were barely any references in their acceptance speeches. Actor Alexander Skarsgård, who won Best Supporting Actor in a TV Miniseries for playing a serial rapist and abuser in Big Little Lies, failed to make even a passing comment on the movement or the larger social context of his win. Likewise, executive producer Bruce Miller accepted an award for his TV series The Handmaid’s Tale (a story centrally focused on a dystopian society where women are oppressed), without reference to the themes that even his own show reflected. Many spectators took note of all this, and criticized the fact that the responsibility of addressing the entire movement that shook the industry fell primarily on the women.

It must be said that these are valid observations, and that red-carpet tokenism, while a basic start in acknowledging the existence of a movement, does not necessarily propel or advance it. Not all women played to the visual standard either. Actress Blanca Blanco wore apple red, and defended ensuing criticism with the opinion that the issue was “bigger than (her) dress color.” HFPA President, journalist Meher Tatna, wore Indian attire in red as well, claiming that her mother watching halfway across the world would be appalled by a black outfit choice on such a ceremony (culturally, black has heavy implications in India), and chose to sport the Time’s Up pin only.


Perhaps it is most important to recognize that the Globes, while not absolutely perfect in its dealing with the #MeToo movement, was an unrivaled starting point. Over the years, it seems like awards shows have become markers of new times and customs. While we come back to spectate every year, the winning actresses often younger and newer, the power structures do remain permanent. While Hollywood has the forward image of continuous dynamism, it has remained, in many ways, immutable. The Globes offered us a peek into an era where power dynamics are being addressed and criticized, where the existence of sexual abuse and assault in the film industry and beyond, is continuously acknowledged, reckoned with, and battled. This era must be sustained, and while fashion can unite us for moments that will hardly ever be forgotten, it is up to the women and men, of Hollywood, who are constantly being spectated upon, to collaborate in advancing a movement that affects us all.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 07: In this handout photo provided by NBCUniversal, HFPA President Meher Tatna speaks onstage during the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 7, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California.
Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images