Red carpet season is descending upon us fast — so get some champagne ready and prepare to hate-watch. This year, lots of actresses are planning something special, sources have reported to PEOPLE magazine: They’re going to wear black. It’s not exactly revolutionary fashion-wise, but culture-wise it is. Multiple award presenters and nominees, like Meryl Streep and Emma Stone, are reportedly planning on wearing black to the Golden Globes, and possibly throughout this year’s awards season. The women wearing black during the Golden Globes are doing so in response to the Harvey Weinstein reckoning that has been ringing through the media in the last few months. But, why the Golden Globes, and why a black ballgown?
Wearing black as a sign of silent protest has a long history: Black is traditionally the color of mourning and anonymity, which means it has a long history of being used in protests. Students wore black arbmands to protest the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Protestors have dressed in black since 1996 as part of the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and The Criminalization of a Generationto Stop Police Brutality, Repression and The Criminalization of a Generation. And in recent protests like Occupy Wall Street, revolutionaries around the world (including overhyped Guy Fawks-mask-wearing anarchists) often wear black. Protestors worldwide have used the strategy of creating a “black bloc,” meaning a group of people who pre-agreed to wear black masks, scarves and hats to cover their faces and attend a protest or rally together, since the 1980s. The women of Poland recently wore black in a direct protest to the government’s harsh and unsafe abortion laws — not much changed, unfortunately. Baseball umpires wore black armbands in direct response to players’ verbal abuse — they don’t make the rules, they just follow them, ya know? The students of the Gloucester County Institute of Technology’s African American Culture Club wore black as a way to protest police brutality during “America Day” at the school; white students planned to wear Confederate clothing to “defend the South” the day after.
People wear black as a silent protest, usually against violence, which more commonly than not is responded to with further violence. The women wearing black to the Golden Globes are responding to violence, but will they face repercussions? Will they face violence and arrests like the anonymous black bloc did during Occupy Wall Street, or those injured or jailed during Black Lives Matter protests?
Gabrielle Union recently spoke out about how the #MeToo movement centers white women’s voices: “I think the floodgates have opened for white women,” she told the New York Times. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence whose pain has been taken seriously. Whose pain we have showed historically and continued to show. Whose pain is tolerable and whose pain is intolerable. And whose pain needs to be addressed now.”
And while seemingly countless women have accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment and assault, he has discredited only the accusations from the two women of color who have come forward: Lupita Nyong’o and Salma Hayek. All women have suffered from rape culture and the patriarchy, but only women of color truly understand how their race (and all the assumptions connected to it) affect their well being, safety, the opportunity to defend themselves, and the freedom to report crimes. Are the white women who are reportedly participating in the Golden Globes protest thinking about this? Have they spoken to women of color activists and asked what help they want?
White. Wealthy. And well known. These women have particular privileges they should use to their advantage to further important causes, not just get a gold star for wearing a ballgown of a certain shade. Red carpet protests, like wearing ribbons to represent a cause or giving shocking one-liners, rarely amount to much, let alone concrete, change. There are much more powerful ways celebrities could protest sexual assault in their industry. Like not going to the awards show altogether; sending an activist in their place; giving an acceptance speech about victims’ rights; releasing a statement supporting sexual assault survivors; or, even better, diving in to activism creating real, fundamental change within an industry we all want desperately to enjoy again.
Actresses and actors may feel like they are in a tough spot, figuring out how to navigate an industry full of “sexual misconduct” that everyone now knows about. How can they stay relevant and beloved? By standing up, acknowledging their privilege, and using the opportunity to address real change. The bar has been officially risen: Ain’t got no time for fake activism anymore. It’s time to ask more from our stars than just a black ballgown.
Top photo: Flickr Creative Commons/Tricks Ware
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