Last autumn, the 2017 Emmy Awards suggested women had officially taken the television reins from the likes of the gritty male anti heroes who had ruled our screens since Y2K panic was all the rage. Remember, the show that started the “Terrible Man You Still Root For” trend, HBO’s The Sopranos, began all the way back in 1999. But, many wondered if Hollywood’s sudden appreciation and dedication to women’s complex, varied stories would disappear as quickly as it had taken hold of the cultural zeitgeist.
Then, Sunday night’s 2018 Golden Globes happened, proving women aren’t going anywhere. In fact, the HFPA’s choices suggested the ladies of TV are even more powerful than they were Emmys night. For the second straight major awards show, series fronted by women swept all major categories from drama (The Handmaid’s Tale) to comedy (Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) and, of course, limited series (juggernaut Big Little Lies). The difference this time, four months after television’s biggest night, was each women who went to accept her Golden Globe statuette had the strength of both the #MeToo movement at the #TimesUp game plan behind her.
As you listened to the people like Lies producing power duo Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, who received the Limited Series Best Actress win, or Maisel breakout star Rachel Brosnahan, who took home the Comedy Best Actress statue, say their “Thank you's” there was a feeling in the air these women’s successes were only the beginning.
Fellow Globes winner Elisabeth Moss, of Handmaid’s Tale, drove this point home by using her acceptance speech to quote the eponymous 1985 Margaret Atwood novel her Hulu series is based upon. “We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print,” the actress said. “It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.” Yet, that time is over, as Moss capped her speech by announcing, “We no longer live in the blank white spaces at the edge of print … We are the story in print, and we are writing the story ourselves.”
The women of Lies, which itself is about literally and metaphorically slaying toxic masculinity, showed how Hollywood could keep women at the centre of print (and television, and movies, and wherever else they please): shedding a light on even more experiences. “You are so brave,” much-awarded actress-producer Reese Witherspoon said to the recent wave of sexual abuse and harassment silence breakers. “Hopefully, shows like [Big Little Lies], more will be made, so people out there who are feeling silenced by harassment, discrimination, abuse — time is up. We see you. We hear you. And we will tell your stories.”
The statement means a lot coming from Witherspoon, a dedicated architect of the Time’s Up movement, which has a multimillion-dollar defence fund for sexual misconduct victims in all industries and will be pushing legislation and initiatives that attack systematic sexism at its core. The latter goal means the leaders of #TimesUp hope to censure companies that protect predators and end the use of NDAs as a major way to accomplish that nefarious end. So, Hollywood power players like Witherspoon aren’t just talking about making a change, they’re putting their money and their time where their mouth is.
As women like Witherspoon and Moss, and their respective Globes-winning shows, have the spotlight, it’s important to recognise the glaring issue in front of us. Lies, Handmaid’s Tale, and Best Comedy winner Mrs. Maisel all tell hard stories about what it means to be a woman — one is tangled in domestic abuse; one imagines the dystopian end of society’s already-existing misogyny; and one looks at the societal expectations imposed on women — but, they’re all centred around life as a white women.
All three of these award-winning series include women of colour, yet, they’re all pushed to the margins, to use Moss’ parlance. Zoe Kravitz’s Lies character Bonnie Carlson exists as a cypher for Witherspoon’s Madeline Martha Mackenzie to rage against. Samira Wiley’s Moira was a fan-favourite on Handmaid’s, but no one would say the Hulu drama is the Black lesbian’s personal Tale. And, Maisel has a character, Harriet (Wakeema Hollis), whose entire job is to service the rare B. Altman cosmetics customer of colour. That's a period-factual detail, but couldn't Harriet's role be more than that one-sentence, melanin-focused description?
When you widen the scope to see who did get some HFPA love, Issa Rae is the sole woman of colour who was nominated for a Globe, and her HBO comedy, Insecure, did not get the same honour.
On the Emmys side, only Viola Davis, Tracee Ellis Ross, Oprah Winfrey’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and Black Mirror’s "San Junipero," co-led by Black British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw, broke though to get a nod in the major categories, in which there were over 60 nominations.
Time can’t truly be up on the sexist ills of Hollywood until all women’s stories are deemed important and award-worthy — not merely the genuine grievances of white women played by beloved movie stars. Give me the Jane The Virgin awards nods and some well-deserved appreciation for Dear White People. Let Being Mary Jane finally get the respect it deserves and Fresh Off The Boat’s Constance Wu get the recognition she’s long overdue. And, let’s just assume now HBO’s upcoming 2 Dope Queens specials should be up for all the Emmys consideration.
At least the women who are netting awards wins recognise it’s time to pull their sisters up with them. As Maisel’s Brosnahan, who plays a wealthy, complicated woman in her Amazon dramedy, noted in her acceptance speech, “There are so many women’s stories out there that need and deserve to be told. So as we enter this new year, please let’s continue to hold each other accountable and invest in and make and champion these stories.”
While the newest Golden Age of television clearly has some work to do, we can still be proud of the progress already being made. After all, the last one lasted for nearly 20 years. In that time, we could be entering 2037 celebrating EGOT winner Lena Waithe.
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