Well, happy to say I won my Golden Globes pool last night, huzzah, huzzah, though certainly not as soundly as in years past. Hard to believe that a mere 12 correct guesses would be the winning tally, but that just goes to show how surprising and unpredictable the night’s winners were.
I think the evening will be remembered as much for the wide apportioning of the awards as for the impassioned activism on display in the black dress and fiery speeches. It’s no wonder that Oprah, giving the evening’s keynote, would be heralded as a welcome Presidential possibility in all my in-boxes the next morning. She didn’t just sum up the mood of the room, but the mood of vast majority of this nation, hoping to reclaim the moral high ground of inclusion, fairness, and justice for ALL, criminally being undermined by those who currently wield the power, in the casting offices, the board rooms, and the halls of government.
Or at least, by those who THINK they wield the power.
For whoever claims that awards shows are NOT the proper forum for political or social activism, or that members of the entertainment industry are not qualified to preach political or social change, are laughably mistaken.
Actors, directors, producers, and writers, are ALL storytellers. That’s their business. That’s their expertise. And anyone who knows anything about storytelling knows that it is only partially an entertainment.
As Aristotle said in his seminal work Poetics, the best stories are the ones that tell the universal TRUTHS about ourselves and our world, that reflect back the audience’s experiences in a way that allows them to not only recognize themselves in the representation, but to LEARN something essential about themselves in the process.
For it is through that learning that we progress as individuals, as a society, and as a species.
Sure, we go to the movies to have an emotional experience, to laugh or cry or cringe, and the best movies provide that opportunity. But what allows them to do that is that they allow us to put ourselves up on that screen, to experience the protagonist’s circumstances, their emotions, not simply as observers, but as active participants.
And honestly, is there anything more powerful, more likely to provoke change, than having the ability to allow someone to walk a mile in another’s shoes, to make them FEEL another’s anguish, resentment, joy, hope, and fears?
I thank God I haven’t had to live through the nightmare experiences of Mildred Hayes, but I certainly know grief, frustration, anger, and the feeling of overwhelming impotence when faced with the incompetence and opposition of those in charge of making the rules and setting the agenda. Haven’t we ALL? THOSE are the universal truths that writer Martin McDonagh taps into so effectively in multiple winner “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
And full disclosure, I didn’t pick that screenplay to win (I’d agreed with most of the pundits that it would go to Greta Gerwig’s equally worthy “Ladybird”). But looking back, how could it NOT win?
At it’s heart, it isn’t just a movie about Mildred Hayes, a woman who won’t sit idly by while Chief Willoughby and the local police, through incompetence or indifference, fail to find justice for her murdered daughter, and who finds a clever, but controversial way to stir them to action. It’s about a woman who refuses to let the powers that be render her powerless, voiceless, and inconsequential. It’s about the men and women in that Beverly Hilton ballroom, dressed in black, calling for change.
It’s about all the millions of men and women watching the broadcast, feeling that same powerlessness, and the clarion call to start DOING something about it.
And as it does with Mildred Hayes, it all starts with words.
And who knows, maybe it ends with Oprah in the White House.
As she said so eloquently while accepting her Cecil B. DeMille Award: “In my career, what I’ve always tried my best to do, whether on television or through film, is to say something about how men and women really behave. To say how we experience shame, how we love and how we rage, how we fail, how we retreat, persevere, and how we overcome.”
That’s what the best stories, and the best STORYTELLERS do.
As asserted by that other powerful female icon at the podium, Barbara Streisand: “Truth is powerful, and in a really good film, we recognize the truth about ourselves, about others, and it’s so powerful that it can even change people’s minds, touch people’s hearts, and ultimately even change society itself.”
Aristotle couldn’t have said it better.
But maybe the message of the evening was best summed up in the words of Mildred Hayes herself, a character masterfully embodied by winner Frances McDormand, but speaking a universal truth that resonates beyond the mere facts of McDonagh’s story: “This didn’t put an end to shit, you fucking retard; this is just the fucking start. Why don’t you put that on your Good Morning Missouri fucking wake up broadcast, bitch?”
But that probably couldn’t all fit on a lapel pin.