Reese Witherspoon. Photo: Getty Images
The red carpet is our chance to get chatty with Hollywood's most brilliant stars. Yet, regardless of what is being celebrated during the ceremony, leading ladies are subject to the same string of anodyne questions: "What are you wearing?", "How long did it take for you to get ready?" and inevitably a recycled joke about who's looking after the kids.
This year, we were promised something different. The Oscars ceremony was a major public outing for the online campaign to #AskHerMore, which has gained some serious momentum of late. Launched in February 2014 by The Representation Project and backed by Amy Poehler, #AskHerMore urges red-carpet reporters to diverge from the usual diet, workout and fashion questions. The aim is simple: Ask actresses more interesting questions about the work they've been nominated for, be less sexist.
❤️ this movement #AskHerMore..have you heard of it? It's meant to inspire reporters to ask creative questions on the red carpet. I love the Oscars AND fashion like many of you - & am excited to share #WhoAmIWearing later tonight. (🙊not yet!!) But I'd also love to answer some of these Qs....And hear your suggestions?! (Share em below!) There are so many amazing, talented nominees this year..! Let's hear their stories! Spread the word. #AskHerMore #Oscars #Countdown
A photo posted by Reese Witherspoon (@reesewitherspoon) on
ok, well how about my idea #askhimless #Oscars — Amy Schumer (@amyschumer) February 22, 2015
The campaign has certainly gained traction. From Cate Blanchett turning the tables on Giuliana Rancic ("Do you do this to the guys?") to a slightly bemused Eddie Redmayne twirling for the camera and Michael Keaton being asked about his shapewear ("I have huge fat toes, so I wrap them tightly in Spanx"), it's clear that a red-carpet revolt is in the works.
And E!'s Ryan Seacrest and Giuliana Rancic seem to have gotten the memo – well, kinda. Yes, Ryan couldn't resist asking Dakota Johnson which sexy props she got to take home from the set of Fifty Shades, but he also made a concerted effort to give the guys the same treatment. "We ask men the same questions that we ask the ladies," maintains Giuliana from the onset.
E! retired its much-maligned clutch and mani cam and asked the male nominees what they were wearing. (A door prize to anyone who answers this question with "deodorant".) Boyhood's Patricia Arquette used her time on the red carpet to talk about her charity work with givelove.org, while Selma's Common chatted to Ryan about his Fred Leighton brooch and Prada tuxedo. Asking male actors who made their dinner suits felt like more of an afterthought than technical awards like 'Best Production Design'. Yet this was the reporters' attempt to restore balance.
But take away the mani cam, the glam-o-metre, the 360-degree rooms and whatever other ridiculous devices Hollywood uses to zero in on hemlines and heels, and you still have the endless stream of snarky commentary that pollutes blogs, websites and social-media platforms. The focus remains firmly fixed on women's bodies, frilly fashions and other superficialities. We rolled our eyes when Giuliana proclaimed to Kelly Osbourne, "Who will win what every actress covets? You know what I'm talking 'bout – it's not the Oscar, it's Best Dressed."
The perfunctory 'Who are you wearing?' may be an entrenched part of red carpet culture. That said, it can, and should always co-exist with more substantial questions about work.
The lack of gender and racial diversity among this year's Oscar nominees says a lot about the current state of Hollywood. And, although the red carpet is seen as a trivial pre-show exercise, the treatment of women nevertheless reflects the greater problem of how they are valued within the entertainment industry.
Asking male actors the same banal and objectifying questions their female counterparts are usually subjected to ignores the main aim of #AskHerMore – that is, to change the conversation about women in Hollywood, not tweak the conversation about men to reflect the same vacuous values. Watched by over forty three million people around the world, the Oscars is the perfect platform for women to make a statement, and not just a fashion statement.