LEONARD QUART: Oprah at the Golden Globes – rehearsal for the White House?
The significance of the Golden Globes usually derives from its offering a preview of what film and stars are ahead in the race to win an Oscar a couple of months later. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association — a non-profit organization with about 90 members from approximately 55 countries — votes on the awards. Its members are international journalists based in Southern California, and they are correspondents few people know — no major film critics among them. And I have often had problems with their award choices, which more often than not lean towards conventional mainstream films at the expense of more complex and imaginative work. Still, the awards ceremony has an extremely large television audience, and most Hollywood stars participate and take the proceedings seriously.
Normally, it’s a loose, unpredictable affair hosted by comedians like the very funny, sarcastic (contemptuous?) Ricky Gervais, but this year it carried a serious theme –- female empowerment — that most participants were committed to and made reference to. Most of the actresses who attended were dressed in black in support of the Time’sUp movement, standing in solidarity with victims of sexual assault and harassment. And late night television’s Seth Meyers, who hosted the ceremony, set the tone in his opening monologue — one that got in a dig about Harvey Weinstein, saying: “Don’t worry, he’ll be back in 20 years when he becomes the first person to be booed at the annual In Memoriam.”
But Meyers took a back seat, subordinating himself to the actresses, who from Nicole Kidman to Barbra Streisand, in different ways, forcefully affirmed women’s demand for justice and an equal place in the movie business and American society. For example Elisabeth Moss who won Best Actress for the dark, dystopian The Handmaid’s Tale (based on the novel by Margaret Atwood) gave a shout-out to Atwood and all the women “who were brave enough to speak out against intolerance and injustice.” She then quoted
Atwood’s stirring poetic words: ““We no longer live in the blank white spaces at the edge of print. We no longer live in the gaps between the stories. We are the story in print, and we are writing the story ourselves.”
The culmination of the evening was Oprah Winfrey accepting her lifetime achievement award and, as is her wont, skillfully telling a moving story about the powerful effect on her as a black child of watching Sidney Poitier win an Oscar for Lilies in the Field in 1964. She then launched an eloquent, optimistic sermon, which almost stopped the evening’s business — award giving — in its tracks. “I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say ‘Me too’ again.”
Oprah is a charismatic, commanding speaker, who easily arouses an audience. She has the gift of being both intimate and declamatory, and at the Golden Globes was treated as show biz royalty talking to her fellow professionals who adore her.
Soon after the ceremony, there was predictable talk about her running for President. Oprah is another celebrity billionaire thrust into the political arena without political experience or I presume any mastery of policy, but she is infinitely more knowledgeable and appealing than our compulsively tweeting, volatile incumbent.
In a media saturated age, someone who is smart, articulate, and seductive, like Oprah, can evoke passionate support. She may be more fluent than other actresses and show biz personalities, but her gift is still for expressive rhetoric not crafting a political agenda or making foreign policy decisions.
I understand the political appeal of charisma, especially of a woman like Oprah who can bridge the racial divide, at least among women. But like the other actresses at the ceremony, she emanates privilege (even if they all pay lip service to working women), and as much artifice as authenticity.
But that’s what one expects from show biz politics — a lot of stylish dazzle, more than a touch of eloquence, and in this case a commitment to what is just and necessary. Does that make for someone who should think of running for president? Only if brilliant surfaces, rather than substance, have become the touchstone of our politics?