But it was Oprah Winfrey, there to accept the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award, who owned the night from the moment she began to speak. Recounting her experience as a little girl in Milwaukee watching Sidney Poitier, in elegant white tie and tails, become the first African American to win an Oscar for best actor, she quoted Poitier in "Lilies of the Field": "Amen, amen. Amen, amen."
Then, invoking the rape survivor and civil rights pioneer Recy Taylor, she observed that her fellow celebrities in the room were there because of "the stories we tell" — within an entertainment business "broken by brutally powerful men. . . . But, their time is up." Addressing another generation of young girls in the global audience, she summoned all of her Oprah-esque authority to intone, "A new day is on the horizon."
That statement rang less like an expression of optimism than a direct order from our social, cultural, spiritual — and maybe just political — commander in chief. And it distilled the myriad shifts and reversals that were wafting through the Beverly Hilton ballroom like encouraging zephyrs, with the dust not soon to settle.
In many ways, this year's Golden Globes was an exercise in democratization and the flattening out of false differences. High-powered movie stars, including Kidman and Reese Witherspoon of "Big Little Lies," won not for their films but for their TV show. The usual red-carpet expectation demanding that women don colorful plumage and punishing high heels while men saunter by in relatively comfortable tuxedos was exposed as the freakish double standard that it is. It turned out that everyone, men and women alike, looked sleek and sensational in black that was anything but basic.
The room full of black-clad stars was simply the most visible reminder of a seismic change seizing an industry already in the throes of generational transformation. While Hollywood grapples with the implication of streaming platforms and corporate consolidation, its toxic sexual politics are now under newly invigorated scrutiny on the part of women. And if the Golden Globes are any indication, they intend to keep up the pressure for equal representation and wage equality until the goals are achieved.
In support of the recent initiative Time's Up, which seeks gender parity at movie studios and has started a legal-defense fund for women in other industries who are sexually harassed and assaulted in the workplace, many female stars brought along leaders in the areas of labor and community organizing, gay rights and the anti-sexual-violence movement. Curiously, though, no men brought along a real-world activist, leading to the wider question: After #MeToo and Time's Up, What's Next? When Winfrey spoke, the room exploded in cheers, with the women leaping to their feet in support; it was possible to discern some hesitation on the part of their male counterparts, uncertain whether to join in the moment, lest they be seen as interlopers instead of good-faith allies.
This is the uncertainty, often expressed sotto voce, that now animates many conversations, literal and internal, as men confront the reality that real change will entail the difficult if not impossible task of ceding their creative, gatekeeping and economic power. After Winfrey's speech virtually brought the house down, presenter Natalie Portman got in her own memorable dig, as she introduced the "all male nominees" for best director. A cutaway shot to the likes of Christopher Nolan and Ridley Scott revealed faces that were alternately uneasy, quizzical or stonily inexpressive, as if one twitch of a cheek would betray their gender or invite immediate feminist wrath. (Coincidentally, just days earlier, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative had released its annual report announcing that women still represent only 4 percent of film directors, a stubborn statistic that has barely moved over the past several years.)
Throughout the evening, women made sly references to the scandalous pay gap between male and female talent. In terms of galvanizing moments, best-actress winner Frances McDormand was a close second to Winfrey as she swaggered onto the stage, fixed her withering gaze on all assembled, and said on behalf of her fellow female artists: "The women in this room tonight are not here for the food. We're here for the work." Message: We are through being compliant, complicit and compulsively focused on soothing male egos.
As often as not, the movies and television shows themselves reflected those same sentiments: Winners included "Big Little Lies," "The Handmaid's Tale," "Lady Bird," "I, Tonya" and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," all centered on women managing male condescension, manipulation, violence and narcissism. The still-open question is just how far men in Hollywood are willing to go in addressing those issues off-screen, in their personal and professional lives.
Although the people who vote on the Golden Globes — which are bestowed by members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association — are outsiders relative to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, they have become something of a bellwether of winners and losers. But this year, the impact of the Globes won't be just on winners or losers but on the degree to which the Oscar ceremony acknowledges and embraces the current zeitgeist: If academy members might have preferred to avoid uncomfortable truths about themselves and their industry, the Globes have now made such self-protection impossible. In terms of stagecraft and substance, the challenge now is to produce an event as electrifying, even confrontational, as this one, while making sure that politics don't swamp what should be a sincere celebration of artistic achievement.
Then again, that might be another dichotomy long past due for being revealed as false: Should this revolution continue apace — if the movie business truly is undergoing a "tectonic movement in [its] power structure," as McDormand observed — what Hollywood once accepted and perpetuated as a white male norm will be shaken, shattered and permanently transformed. That means the movies themselves will change, too. And the psychic impact will be as incalculable as Winfrey seeing Poitier in his white tie.