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How media awards challenge Hollywood power structures

Actress and TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey poses with the Cecil B. DeMille Award during the 75th Golden Globe Awards on Sunday in Beverly Hills, California. PHOTO | AFP
Actress and TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey poses with the Cecil B. DeMille Award during the 75th Golden Globe Awards on Sunday in Beverly Hills, California. PHOTO | AFP 

Kenyans know Nollywood and Bollywood and even Riverwood. But none of these ‘woods’ can quite compare to the mother of all media film centres which is Hollywood.

Hollywood’s incomparable for its glitter, glamour and glow of media stardom which was highlighted this past weekend when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association held their annual awards night, the 75th Golden Globes.

The Golden Globes come a few weeks before the Academy awards, also known as the Oscars (to be held March 4). And some critics take them to be of lesser importance than the Oscars.

But some of us see them as more insightful and deeply discerning than the Oscars. This is because the judges, while mostly based in Hollywood, are from different regions of the world, giving them (assumedly) a more global perspective on media and specifically, film. But while the winners and losers of this year’s Golden Globe awards were much anticipated, especially as the names of the nominees were widely circulated well in advance, the big news of the night related to the main award recipient.

Oprah Winfrey won the prestigious Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award, which was a big deal in itself, especially as she is the first woman of colour to receive that prize. But upon receiving it, Oprah gave such a powerfully compelling and charismatic acceptance speech that the instantaneous buzz became ‘Oprah for President’ in 2020.

Adulation of Oprah has been a phenomenon for many years and her fans have often suggested she run for the US President. She has always denied any interest whatsoever in becoming a politician. She was happy to remain a leading cultural icon who not only has her ‘OWN’ cable TV channel and popular ‘O’ magazine. She has a living history of being the top syndicated TV talk show star which earned her a single-name recognition that sticks with her to this day.

But the clamour for Oprah to run for public office got louder after Barack Obama became the first African-American president. She remained adamant against it until very recently when things changed dramatically. The change was described by Frances McDormand (who won Best Actress at this year’s Globes for her role in ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri as a “tectonic shift in the Hollywood industry’s power structure”.

The Harvey Weinstein sex scandal is what really precipitated this shift. It roused women across America (and around the world) to widely endorse the ‘Me Too’ movement of women admitting publically that they too had been sexually assaulted in the past. But more often than not, they had kept silent about that abuse up until now.

Now that women celebrities including Lupita Nyong’o, Meryl Streep and many others, have spoken out and even named their abusers, multiple male ‘heads have rolled’.

Men who once seemed untouchable and highly esteemed have had to quit their jobs or be fired outright. Everyone from Weinstein, one of the biggest media moguls in the world, to movie stars like Dustin Hoffman to politicians like US Senator (and former TV comedian) Al Franken have been publicly named, shamed and literally forced by overwhelming public pressure to leave their high social seats of power.

Their fall has been dramatic. And to illustrate women’s solidarity with all the ‘victims’ who had been abused in the past, practically all the women (and most men too) at last Sunday night’s Golden Globes wore black.

What’s more, the choice of award-winning films, actors and actresses also reflected the changes resulting from not only the ‘Me too’ movement but its follow-up campaign of ‘Time’s Up’.

The Time’s Up Now concept was initiated, again, by Hollywood celebrity women who want to ensure that fundamental changes take place in power structures. They want to make sure the public’s response of the Weinstein scandal is not short-lived.

This is where Oprah comes in. When she ended her acceptance speech by declaring a “new day [is] on the horizon,” that was it. The audience at the Globes went wild. They got on their feet as they applauded and the presidential buzz amped up.

And while there were numerous award winners at the Golden Globes that were men, such as Gary Oldman for his role as Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour, the majority of winners were woman-related.

That includes the TV series The Handmaid’s Tale and Best Dramatic Motion Picture Three Billboards. Plus actresses who won included Nicole Kidman, Allison Janney, Elizabeth Moss and Saoirse Ronan. And apart from Oprah, the one Black actor to win at the Globes was Sterling K. Brown for his role in This is Us.

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