The 65th Golden Globe Awards three days ago was like no other because of the color, tone and theme that its black-clad participants pushed, which was “Time’s Up.” Time’s up for those who sexually harass women, time to speak out openly and condemn and expose. Black said it loud.
Oprah Winfrey, media giant (producer, talk show host, actress), received the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Award — the first black woman to be given such an honor. She spoke, and the people in the audience rose to applaud. What she said has gone viral on social media but, as always, not everybody is happy for what was said or not said.
Winfrey is criticized for having compared — but did she? — the “black women’s Jim Crow era rape to that of rich white women’s #MeToo” in Hollywood and business. That is, there is no way to compare the two and that she shouldn’t have done so. Writer Charlie Peach pointed out the gaps in Winfrey’s speech and gave more that the world should know about the plight of black women. Well, thanks for all that.
But I read the transcript of Winfrey’s speech and I could not see how or where she was comparing the two eras and the women who were victimized and their victimizers. She was simply presenting cases in a bygone era to emphasize her point. That Winfrey is a black woman billionaire (having risen from an impoverished background) does not mean she has lost the feel for her roots. That she is now touted as a presidential contender is another story.
For this Asian in Southeast Asia, I thought Winfrey’s speech immensely helped in further stoking the fire. Whatever she did not say in those few minutes on stage, whatever blanks there were could be filled up by others in, say, books and books and books and other media.
In Asia, South Asia especially, women do not only get raped, they also get doused with kerosene and set on fire by their husbands and even by their female in-laws. If they survive, they are scarred and disfigured for life, both physically and emotionally.
Yes, there is also no way to compare even loosely the “rich white women’s #MeToo” in corporate and Hollywood’s America with Asian women’s experience of sexual violence. But I thought Winfrey’s message, constrained as it was by time and place, is true and acceptable in different contexts—and it helps if one knew where she is coming from.
Earlier, Time magazine honored the “Silence Breakers” as the publication’s 2017 Persons of the Year, women who exposed sexual assault and harassment. So every act that goes in the direction of women’s freedom from violence and discrimination is a step in the right direction, an affirmation.
I liked what Winfrey said about the media which is her turf: “I want to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press Association because we all know the press is under siege these days. We also know it’s the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice. To … to tyrants and victims, and secrets and lies. I want to say that I value the press more than ever before as we try to navigate these complicated times, which brings me to this: What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I’m especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories. Each of us in this room is celebrated because of the stories that we tell, and this year we became the story.”
This year’s “stories” being the women’s stories about sexual harassment and abuse. So, yes to storytelling! We journalists are more than just reporters and feature writers. We are storytellers.
The Globes’ best actress for drama, Frances McDormand (of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” which won as Best Picture), found the right words: “It’s great to be here and be part of the tectonic shift in our industry’s power structure.”
Hyperbolic though it may sound, the tectonic shift is real. Feel the earth move.
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