In the months since the #MeToo hashtag started trending on Twitter, the energy, support, and advocacy behind these words show promise of turning into a full-fledged movement with the possibility of leading to significant cultural change. There has been growing recognition of people of color, LGBTQ survivors, and male survivors participating in #MeToo. Industry leaders across fields like media, entertainment, government, and business have publicly reckoned with the consequences of their behavior. Senators, representatives, and local governments are looking at bills to strengthen both the response to sexual harassment and enforcement of those laws. People everywhere are having open conversations about topics that were previously dismissed, whispered, or silenced. Surely this sea of change indicates some degree of progress.
However, among the glitz and glamor of Hollywood, an industry that has been particularly outspoken about the problem of sexual harassment and the importance of holding perpetrators accountable, Kobe Bryant and Gary Oldman both earned top honors at the 2018 Oscars. Kobe Bryant, who was accused of rape in 2003, took home the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film, and Gary Oldman, who faced domestic violence charges in 2001, walked away with the Oscar for Best Actor. In a time when it seems to be an everyday occurrence for some high-powered entertainment icon to lose their status, it feels like a betrayal that Hollywood would reward these men with an Oscar.
That’s not for a lack of trying, though. In the awards shows leading up to the Oscars, Hollywood seemed united in speaking out against sexual harassment by dressing in black for solidarity and saying “Time’s Up” for ignoring workplace harassment. James Franco was passed over for an Oscar nomination after allegations of sexual misconduct came out against him. Thousands or people signed a petition to remove Bryant from the list of Oscar nominees, and thousands have also signed a petition to revoke his Oscar award. Even after the awards season has passed, Time’s Up and #MeToo continue to draw attention to the problem of sexual harassment and assault.
Yet the 2018 Oscars still feel like a huge step back after months of people facing consequences for their actions, causing many people to feel shocked, angered, or any number of other emotions. Understandably so. Awarding Oscars to Oldman and Bryant says that society continues to reward men who abuse others rather than holding those men accountable. Awarding Oscars to Oldman and Bryant overlooks the harm they have caused to others, silences the women who spoke out against them, and disregards the movement that has risen up around these problems.
Changing a culture takes time. Becoming conscious of the behaviors, thought patterns, and power imbalances that construct rape culture is just one step in reversing the pervasive impact of sexual harassment and assault. Once we develop awareness of the ways we contribute to rape culture, we can begin to find alternatives for transforming our behaviors and transforming our society. Although the 2018 Oscars contradict the efforts of #MeToo and Time’s Up, they are also a growing pain in the process of change. It reinforces the importance of sustained efforts to draw attention to sexual harassment and assault. No matter how slow, progress moves us forward, and now more than ever we need to continue moving forward.