Red carpet activism: political fashions at the 70th Emmy Awards

BY TESS TUITOEK ’21

The use of award shows as political platforms for celebrities has been a part of Hollywood for a long time. In 1973, when Marlon Brando won an Oscar for his performance in “The Godfather,” Sacheen Littlefeather, adorned in traditional Apache tribal garb, declined the award on his behalf to draw attention to the film industry’s offensive representations of Native Americans and to advocate for the protests at Wounded Knee. In 2016, at the 88th Academy Awards, stars like Jesse Williams and Janelle Monáe protested the Oscar’s diversity problem and supported #OscarsSoWhite by not attending at all. More recently, with the advent of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, stars and activists have used the red carpet as a platform to speak up about sexual assault, wearing all black in solidarity with the Time’s Up movement at the 75th Golden Globes.

This mass-fashion statement was powerful not only because of its political implications, but also because it set the tone for actresses in particular to receive more relevant questions on the red carpet.

Actress Reese Witherspoon (“Wild”), an activist for Time’s Up, spoke out about the issue. “We are more than just our dresses,” she said. “We love the artists that make all our clothes. [However], there are 44 nominees that are women and we are so happy to be here and talk about the work that we have done.”

“Imagine a world where celebrities were championing their causes on the red carpet,” said Founder and CEO of The Representation Project, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, in 2015. “Can you imagine the impact? Their messages would trickle down as inspiration for others to get involved in causes.” As we as a society build on the momentum of movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp on and off the red carpet, we can hope to see awareness and hopefully, change, in the near future.

Oprah said it best at the 2018 Golden Globes. “For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men,” she said. “But [that] time is up.” Her words resonated at the 70th Emmys, where some celebrities chose to wear brands and clothing in support of social and political causes.

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Jenifer Lewis

“Black-ish” star Jenifer Lewis opted for a full Nike outfit to show her gratitude for the company’s support of Colin Kaepernick. Nike’s latest campaign featured Kaepernick with the words, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything,” in reference to Kaepernick’s choice to kneel during the national anthem played at NFL games as a form of protest. “I’m wearing Nike to applaud them for supporting Colin Kaepernick and his protest against racial injustice and police brutality,” said Lewis in an interview with Variety. “What can I do? What can I do that’s meaningful? I’ll wear Nike. I’ll wear Nike to say thank you. Thank you for leading the resistance! We need more [of] corporate America to stand up also.”

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Padma Lakshmi

Actress, author and television host Padma Lakshmi dressed with an agenda, choosing an outfit she’d already worn last October to the Vogue India Women of the Year Awards in Mumbai. Lakshmi’s intended message was to highlight the toll the fashion industry and the red carpet has taken on the environment. “I think in this day and age we should stop sending the message to young women and girls that we all have these endless closets of clothes we never wear more than once, especially on a red carpet,” said Lakshmi. “The hours that it takes, the artisans’ labor and the gorgeous fabrics all deserve to be worn again and treasured. It seems wasteful not to enjoy these dresses.”

Lakshmi also wore a blue ribbon on her gown to show her support for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that has fought to maintain the DREAM Act. She explained that she was glad to use her platform to call attention to the issue of child separation at U.S. borders. “I think I’m very lucky to be standing here in a beautiful dress on TV. I was an immigrant, I was a girl who was separated from my parents for two years. I feel like if I have the good fortune to be here, then I should pay it forward and use what I’ve been given for the greater good to pull other people up,” she told People Magazine. Edie Falco, Evan Rachel Wood and Alexis Bledel also wore the ACLU ribbon that night to show their support for the organization.

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Sarah Sophie Flicker

“Tiny Furniture” and “We Still Rise” actress Sarah Sophie Flicker’s approach to Emmy activism was less subtle than others, with her arm bearing the words “Stop Kavanaugh” along with the phone number of the U.S. Senate directory. These words are in reference to recent allegations against Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual violence by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez, former high school and college classmates of Kavanaugh’s, respectively. Flicker later took her message to Instagram, accompanying a photo of her Emmy look with the caption “For the Senate Judiciary Committee to move forward with a vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh this week, without pausing for a thorough investigation of the allegations of sexual violence, would be a gross injustice and an insult to women.” Members of the Time’s Up movement distributed pins that said, “I Believe Christine Blasey Ford,” and “I Still Believe Anita Hill,” to attendees. Anita Hill, who accused Clarence Thomas, then a Supreme Court Justice nominee, of sexual harassment, was in Ford’s position during Thomas’ nomination in 1991. Despite Hill’s allegations, Thomas’ nomination was ultimately successful.

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