Harvey Weinstein Haunted the Golden Globes

The glittering ceremony took place on the eve of the Hollywood mogul’s criminal trial. You wouldn’t have known that from watching the show.

Stephanie Keith / Getty / Shutterstock / The Atlantic

The Golden Globe Awards of early 2018 had a distinctly funereal feel. Nearly everyone in attendance at the ceremony, the first of the awards-show season, wore black—a fashion statement of an extremely literal strain, meant to acknowledge the news that had torn through Hollywood that fall. The revelations about Harvey Weinstein, initially reported by The New York Times and The New Yorker, had implicated not only Weinstein and his once-celebrated production company, but also Hollywood as an industry, a labor force, and a system. The stories that emerged in the aftermath were indictments of complicities and complacencies and open secrets. The stark black clothing at the Globes was meant to acknowledge both the problems and, apparently, the impending solutions. Awards shows can do—or be—only so much, but the collective action itself suggested a paradigm shift: Time’s up, the fashion said, and the clothing’s wearers said the same.

Two years later, there are still very many problems, in Hollywood and beyond, that might be worthy of such a show of solidarity from people with platforms. The world, after all, is burning. But the 2020 Globes lacked the urgency and the activism of their predecessor; frilly escapism, instead, was for the most part the order of the evening. As my colleague Sophie Gilbert noted, the show itself, aired on NBC and hosted by the insult comic Ricky Gervais, read as chaotic and disjointed: a woozy, boozy affair set against the backdrop of environmental catastrophe, of looming war, of global tragedy.

The show, as concerns the internecine politics of Hollywood itself, also whiffed of regression: Gone was the anger that had animated the 2018 show. Gone was the collective action. Gone was the carefully articulated promise of wholesale change. (The most direct analogue to the generalized activism of the 2018 show was the Globes’ decision to serve its revelers a plant-based meal.) Instead, last night’s awards were a return to Hollywood’s status quo: politics, ad hoc and optional, awkwardly bumping up against the glitter and the gold and the upturned bottles of Moët.

Weinstein, in particular, was a spectral presence at the Globes. In a room full of people who have been alternately his accusers and his enablers, the show featured notably little mention of Weinstein himself—or of the #MeToo movement that the revelations about him helped expand. The absence was especially striking given that the Globes took place the evening before Weinstein’s years-in-the-making criminal trial began. That trial, which commenced today in New York City and is based on charges he has denied, has the potential to put Weinstein in prison for the rest of his life. It is the embodiment of the very thing Hollywood’s power players have talked about since the Weinstein news broke in 2017: accountability, finally.

The coincidence was acknowledged only in roundabout ways. Gervais, during his opening monologue: “Tonight isn’t just about the people in front of the camera. In this room are some of the most important TV and film executives in the world. People from every background. But they all have one thing in common: They’re all terrified of Ronan Farrow.” And then Gervais, at the end of the evening, introducing Sandra Bullock: “Our next presenter starred in Netflix’s Bird Box, a movie where people survive by acting like they don’t see a thing. Sort of like working for Harvey Weinstein.”

Both jokes were met—as were most of Gervais’s attempts at incisive humor yesterday evening—with awkward silence.

That is in part because both jokes are decidedly stale. They might have had more currency at the awards shows of 2018, when the Weinstein revelations were fresh; their flatness in 2020 is a failure on the part of Gervais, certainly, whose extremely Gervaisian theme for the evening was essentially I am going to bomb on purpose, and you have no choice but to let me.

But the jokes also served as a reminder of how little meaningful progress has been made in Hollywood, despite the strident optimism of earlier years. Extremely few people of color were nominated, across various categories, for the 2020 awards; even fewer won. No women directors were nominated at all. Quentin Tarantino—who, Uma Thurman claimed, put her in needless danger on the set of Kill Bill—was met with rapturous applause when accepting his award for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Salma Hayek, who had stood, during an earlier awards show, with her fellow “silence breakers” Annabella Sciorra and Ashley Judd in purposeful defiance of Weinstein, presented an award last night. The lines written for her, this time around, made fun of her accent.

Awards shows are meant to take stock of things. They are time capsules of their moment: its fashions, its assumptions, its assessments about the best of its art. Two years ago, the Globes insisted that change—meaningful, systemic, permanent—had come to Hollywood. Last night’s show said something else: Time may be up, but time also has a way of regressing to the mean.