Women have been asking for people to listen to them since the beginning of history–or, at least, for a very, very long time. And much of that battle has been fought in Hollywood, both on-screen and behind-the-scenes, where there has been a concerted push for gender parity among show creators and for better quality of writing to depict female characters. If the 2018 Golden Globe nominations that were announced Monday were any indicator, people are finally listening. Or, at the very least, watching.
New allegations of sexual assault and abuse of power are being reported seemingly daily, especially in the entertainment industry. The #MeToo movement has inspired millions of people to share their stories on social media, and Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner and Harvey Weinstein, among so many more, have seen their careers derailed after misconduct was exposed. Amid the real-life upheaval, the fictional stories focusing on strong women in movie theaters and on TV are also getting recognized.
This year’s Golden Globes, the unofficial kickoff to Hollywood’s awards season, are dominated by female-driven projects that explore unapologetically complicated protagonists who question the ideals of femininity, sexuality and motherhood. The hit HBO series Big Little Lies, which has earned praise for featuring unlikable female characters committing morally questionable actions, led the way for TV projects with a total of five nominations ahead of the Jan. 7 ceremony.
Four out of the five nominated shows for best TV movie or limited series chronicled stories driven by idiosyncratic and even problematic female leads. Centering on a group of picture-perfect West Coast parents suspected of a violent crime, HBO’s Big Little Lies received a nod in the category, as did FX’s Feud, which narrated the famously bitter rivalry between aging Hollywood legends Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. The Sinner, the USA crime drama about a young mother who viciously murders a man without knowing why, and SundanceTV’s Top of the Lake: China Girl, following a female detective’s struggle with having placed a child for adoption after a brutal sexual assault, were also recognized.
Women, sometimes unfairly considered to be less funny than their male counterparts, were also celebrated in the TV musical and comedy category, where the Amazon series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the story of a 1950s housewife who leaves her husband and embarks on a career in stand-up, was nominated for best comedy series and leading actress, as was Showtime’s Smilf, the raunchy comedy about a struggling single mother. (HBO’s Veep, centering on Julia Louis-Dreyfus as politician Selina Meyer, was among the major snubs.)
Motherhood, often the subject of unrealistic idealism in entertainment, received in-depth, unapologetic exploration in this year’s nominees, which brought complicated, imperfect women to the screen. Recognized with three nominations, The Handmaid’s Tale, the gritty screen adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, depicted a country run by Christian fundamentalists who force women to serve as childbearing vessels for powerful married couples. The horrors are told through the voice of Offred, a woman silently seething with rebellion and determined to remain alive and reclaim her life. Cora, the murderer in The Sinner, commits a vicious and violent crime during a family trip to the beach, triggering inquiries into her own past, and Top of the Lake dove into the emotional complexities of biological and adoptive motherhood.
The question of likability has impeded women since they first stepped into the public eye, and the lack of a “likable” female character has often been blamed over the years for the failure of a movie or TV show. For the newest crop of nominations—with the complex and challenging teenage title character of Lady Bird, and the deeply conflicted and flawed protagonist I, Tonya—the question of likability finally seems to be subverted by appreciation for complex and enigmatic characters.
Of course, there is still progress to be made. While the on-screen stories of women were recognized, none of the nominees for film directing is female. Lady Bird was nominated for best picture, but director Greta Gerwig did not receive a nomination, nor did Patty Jenkins, who helmed the blockbuster success Wonder Woman, or Dee Rees, who directed Mudbound. Indeed, this speaks to a lingering issue of opportunity within the industry; to date, only four women have ever been nominated for the best-director Oscar.
Following the politically charged 2017 Globes ceremony, which included Meryl Streep’s impassioned speech that took aim at Trump, a move toward equality and acceptance seemed inevitable, even before the allegations of sexual assault began breaking recently. This year’s nominations are a step–albeit a small one–in the right direction. Next time around, the leadership of real-life women should be celebrated as well.