Lucy Mangan

“The red carpet isn’t the place for politics” Lucy Mangan on the Oscars #AskHerMore campaign

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Lucy Mangan
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Should Hollywood's red carpet reporters change their interview tactics? Stylist columnist Lucy Mangan tackles a question that now has its very own hashtag campaign.

Could I make a plea about the Oscars? Could we not #AskHerMore this year? This is the campaign, launched a few years ago by The Representation Project (an organisation that seeks to expose and correct gender stereotypes in the media), to encourage people to ask women on the red carpet more searching questions than what or who they are wearing, and who loaned them their jewellery.

It’s a good and righteous campaign. But there’s a time and a place for everything and for this it is not on the Oscars red carpet.

Outside the Dolby Theatre – inside is different and we’ll get to that – is a fashion show. Everyone is dressed up to the nines, everyone looks beautiful, everyone is basically a work of art. So talk about the art. This is the one time of the year when it actually is appropriate to ask everyone who and what they’re wearing, who loaned them their jewels and how much the fabulous glittering ropes of diamonds and rubies are worth. Let us know what’s vintage Valentino and confirm that the glorious, impossible confection of frills and furbelows is Oscar de la Renta and point out what magic Balenciaga has conjured up this year. It’s fine.

To do anything else is entirely wrong in the context, looks ridiculous and risks making the whole crusade look risible. As far as I’m concerned, on the Oscar red carpet, the only campaign should be #AskHimLess. Stick to asking the male actors the easy questions about clothes too. Although it should perhaps be called #AskHimEvenLess, because I’ve never seen even the men given much of a chance to show off their intellectual prowess by anything lobbed at them by Ryan Seacrest et al as they peg it down the red road to the safety of their seats. Of all the imbalances out there in the world, it really does seem fairly minimal here.

Off the carpet, things are of course different – even, as I say, once inside the venue the rules change. The mood is different. People are watching attentively. They have a platform conducive to coherent thought and often use it. Host Chris Rock will almost certainly – he may consider himself honour-bound – confront the extraordinary lack of people of colour among the nominees (the awareness of which was raised in part by another highly effective social media campaign #OscarsSoWhite). Winners may do likewise when they are in the spotlight. Equally, female winners may choose to use their speeches to poke fun/get angry about Hollywood’s equally abject failure to give women parity in pay, respect or screen time and narrative heft. By all means boys, do likewise.

Beyond the Oscars, #AskHerMore can and should keep the pressure on interviewers to ask all actors about their work rather than their diets, partners and latest break-ups. Whether you want them to be asked about current affairs depends on where you stand on actors’ ability to see further into a geopolitical conflict than the rest of us. Personally I’m not convinced that just because an actor has played a terrorist or an activist or a politician they are any more qualified than I am to pronounce upon world crises and I could be easily persuaded that there is more integrity in just letting us know how they maintain three per cent body fat without throwing themselves off a cliff in hungry despair, but your mileage may vary.

In the meantime, on Oscar night let’s keep our powder dry and just admire the dresses on the catwalk while we #AskThemAllTheSame.

I am renting a cottage in Norfolk for a week (because I’m supposed to be writing a book and this is not proving possible at home) and in it is something quite marvellous. I literally sit here and marvel at it. It is a lava lamp. It brings me a peace like I have never known. I begin to understand why people go on about meditation (though not why they do so at quite such length). I sit here at the end of the day and watch it instead of the telly. It concentrates the mind wonderfully. My whole world narrows down to the fascinating question of what sized blob will detach itself from the molten mass and how far it will rise before gravity reasserts itself and brings it down to earth once more. No matter how the day has gone it takes me completely out of my messy head in a way nothing else has ever managed. As a lifelong hater of hippies and all their associated things, this is disconcerting. But another look at my lamp soothes me again. When I get home I’m buying one of my own. The new me starts here.

Photography: Ellis Parrinder, Getty

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