When people at an awards show get up and make a political statement, it doesn’t usually have much to do with the things that actually win the awards. At last year’s Golden Globe Awards, Meryl Streep made that soaring speech about acting and deception, addressing the shadow in the room that was the oncoming Trump presidency. Since “La La Land” wound up sweeping the awards, you could find a connective theme there of reality and escapism, but that probably would have been stretching things.
The 75th Golden Globe Awards, however, were different. This year, the political statement was woven into the very fiber of the ceremony. It was there in the black couture sported by everyone in the room — the women in elegant dresses, the men in suits with matching obsidian shirts and ties, a statement of solidarity that became, through its ubiquity, a symbolic piece of visual background decor, though one that worked just fine, since it was all setting the stage for the fireworks to come.
It was there in Seth Meyers’ nervously funny and self-deprecating jokes, which he presented as a running monologue of white male masochism (edgiest line: that Harvey Weinstein will “be back in 20 years when he becomes the first person ever booed In Memorium”). And it was there, most spectacularly, in the speech made by Oprah Winfrey, two hours into the ceremony, as she accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Award.
By the time Oprah got up on stage to make her statement, she didn’t just add to the theme of harassment and heroism, discrimination and liberation. She took it to the mountaintop. Speaking with fire and fury, she offered a glimpse of a better world, one in which women and men would join forces to be the guardians of decency — and would have each other’s backs. For a few glowing moments, her words transcended the very purpose of the awards. They became the evening’s purpose.
Throughout the night, though, the awards themselves seemed to fuse with the declaration of a new activist spirit. You could feel it in the evening’s celebration of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” a movie that premiered a month before the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke — yet one that now, if anything, seems to speak in a more heightened way. Its central character, Mildred Hayes, is a woman trapped in a wrath that’s so righteous, yet so unconnected to anything that might end her suffering, that she has no idea what to do with it. And it’s that anger-with-no-outlet quality, which McDormand acts brilliantly, that now seems to express several generations’ worth of women’s invisible fury.
McDormand, winning for best actress in a dramatic role, gave a beauty of an acceptance speech — stern but funny — and the evening just built on her fervor through the presence of Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, reminding us of what “Thelma & Louise” really tapped into; and of Barbra Streisand, who in stating, with the worldliest of exasperation, that she’s the only woman director to have won a Golden Globe, all the way back in 1984 (for “Yentl”), encapsulated the simultaneous obscenity and absurdity of that statement. Natalie Portman was more direct about it, introducing the nominees for best director by observing, “And now, here are the all-male nominees.” At least two, Christopher Nolan and Ridley Scott, looked faintly embarrassed, but only because Portman had made a piercing point: There was something naggingly complacent in the old-boys’-network nominating process. As in: Where was Greta Gerwig?
You might ask, “Where was Patty Jenkins?” But “Wonder Woman” was a film the Hollywood Foreign Press Association chose not to honor with nominations, in the standard way that popcorn movies generally don’t get nominated. So the omission of Jenkins didn’t play as a snub. “Lady Bird” is a very different creature. It’s a movie that’s riding a powerful wave of critical and popular enthusiasm, and the Globes, by honoring it in the best comedy or musical category, and awarding Saoirse Ronan for best actress in a comedy or musical, were not shy about acknowledging its exquisite power. So the lack of a director nomination stuck out like the sorest of thumbs.
That said, Gerwig and Ronan both gave speeches that were models of classy, personalized exuberance, at once eloquent and spontaneous. In doing so, they testified to the lure of a movie that transforms the tale of a 17-year-old high-school semi-misfit into an extraordinary portrait of the spirit of young womanhood in the 21st century. The Golden Globes drew together, with captivating concision, the issue of sexual harassment and the issue of opportunities for women filmmakers, treating them (rightly) as two sides of the same coin, and that’s why the evening never had the air of a harangue. From the moment Gal Gadot and Dwayne Johnson walked up, arm in arm, to present the first award, its vibe was strong, prideful, radiantly inclusive. It was gazing into the future.
A future that includes, of course, the Academy Awards. For all the crashing cymbals of opinion and accolade, there’s a monkey-see-monkey-do aspect to the way that the awards season now works. The winners and nominations roll forward in overlapping waves, with each one having the potential to influence the next in ways both obvious and imperceptible. Seen in that light, the Golden Globe Awards are more than a bellwether. Despite the slightly disreputable junket-meets-movie-cult aspect of the HFPA, they’ve become the de facto dress rehearsal for the Oscars — the first chance for the industry, and the whole gawking world, to see what it looks like when this actress or actor, or that movie, takes home that award. Does it fit right? Is it too much of a stretch? Is it an honor worthy of being repeated at that other ceremony?
This year’s Golden Globes took several key choices out for a test drive, and most of them felt good — like, for instance, Gary Oldman, recovering his awards mojo to take best actor in a dramatic role, or Allison Janney, who gave a sharp and winning best supporting actress speech that nailed “I, Tonya” as a tale of class in America and “the disenfranchised” (though as good as Janney is as Tonya Harding’s mother-from-hell, I still hope the Oscar goes to Laurie Metcalf for her indelible performance in “Lady Bird”). The Globes, by the very design of its categories — the whole best-comedy-or-musical thing, which still sounds like a relic from 1964 — can never be a total precursor to the Oscars. But over the last dozen years, it’s inched closer to being that, and this year, by not just offering a preview of Hollywood’s revolutionary new attitude toward women but owning it and making it stick, the Globes may have taken another small bite out of the Oscars’ thunder.