The Oscars will most likely record low ratings when it airs on Monday April 26 (NZT), given that, with most of the world locked down, barely anyone has seen the films nominated. And despite the (admittedly pale, male, stale) star power of producer Steven Soderbergh, we know little of what the show might look like. Presumably, it will have little of the dazzling wattage of previous years.
It’s a tremendous shame really, given that the nominees are the most diverse in the #OscarsSoWhite history, and that, flush with the historic sweep of Best Picture winner Parasite last year, it genuinely feels like energy is shifting in the right direction.
But most importantly to me (and I am very important), it's been announced that, much like the awards themselves, the red carpet will be a scaled down version of previous years. I don’t know about you, but I am so ready to drool over some transportative gowns and glamour and desperately hoping for the opportunity to do so.
Red carpets, and the accompanying coverage, have long suffered a bit of an identity crisis. Incredible moments of self-expression and re-writing of rules, from Cher to Sharon Stone, have been setback by a media culture with a narrow and problematic lens (see: Giuliana Rancic shamefully and heinously suggesting Zendaya’s dreadlocks smelt like patchouli and weed, and every creepy ‘Glam Cam’ the E! Network ever made a woman climb into).
In 2015 female celebrities, tired of being reduced to their appearances, started a campaign for more ‘equality’ on the red carpet. #AskHerMore sought to open up red carpet conversations to issues other than the superficial. By 2018, women had realised that red carpet dressing was a power they had in Hollywood that men did not. They unionised, came together collectively in solidarity for the injustices their community had suffered and wore black to the Golden Globes to announce #TimesUp.
The film industry has long been predicated on wealthy white men who wield undue power. Red carpet dressing creates a fringe industry adjacent to the film business but largely outside the domain of cis white men. It’s the one part of the industry where more opportunity exists for women. And what started as superficial and inane has been co-opted and turned into opportunity.
The red carpet is, at its crux, a promotional opportunity. It’s also a place that allows women more space than men to talk to a huge audience. It’s an arena where many deals and contracts are done, uniquely where female stars are able to earn more than their male counterparts.
And in a shift away from 2015’s reluctance to talk about fashion, many are now embracing the adjacent industry and employment opportunities that it creates. The stylists, makeup and nail artists and hairdressers are predominantly either women or from other marginalised groups - people of colour and/or various gender identities.
Red carpet coverage, the photos of which reach a far wider audience than the awards ceremony itself, create a discourse and conversation around fashion which in turn trickles down to ensure ‘women’s interest’ become part of the social lexicon.
I appreciate that in 2021 ranking women’s looks or judging them ‘best’ or ‘worst’ is a very outdated notion, especially if you are looking at it through the lens of the patriarchy. But to me, there is nothing more dull than a thin white blonde in a ball gown (unless you’re Anya Taylor Joy, styled by Law Roach).
Today’s red carpet magic, as realised by the industry’s best stylists, lies in those who are fearless and unafraid to push boundaries; Zendaya, Cynthia Erivo and Tracee Ellis Ross amongst many others who’ve been forced to think more creatively due to a lack of access, leading to a refreshing break from societal expectations.
Basically, if you’re on the Daily Mail’s worst dressed list, I will love you.
Since the pandemic, ‘red carpets’ have moved to a largely social media play, seeing many of our beloved movie stars reduced to awkward influencer photo shoots (unless you’re Kerry Washington, styled by Law Roach or Cynthia Erivo, styled by Jason Bolden).
I’ll take fashion where I can get it. But we all know that in the modern modelling world those with the biggest following get the most opportunity.
My fear is that away from a bipartisan red carpet we will see regression; not only with designers favouring those with a large following but with evilly omnipresent algorithms ensuring those who play outside conventional norms receive less attention.
This year, with the lack of Hollywood blockbusters, the Oscars are their most diverse ever with more women and POC nominated. Let’s please not turn away this year. The very act of viewing the Oscars this year, in whatever form it is presented to us, is a political act.
And don’t dismiss the red carpet as a frivolous side hustle. Aside from being an important form of creative and political expression that provides employment to many, it also provides unbridled beauty and joy. And who couldn’t do with more joy right now?