Me Too movement founder Tarana Burke anticipates an Academy Awards ceremony that’s “respectful of the moment” and not solemnly so. “I feel like we should be celebrating the fact that people are finally paying attention to what we’ve been talking about for decades,” says the activist who’s devoted herself to working at the intersection of racial injustice and sexual violence, speaking to Variety the night before the Oscars.
But to address issues of sexual harassment in a hosting role requires a sensitivity that changes the protocols of the red carpet and Burke does not believe that female actresses should be forced to state their position by agreeing to, or avoiding, an interview with Ryan Seacrest. “They really shouldn’t send him [to the Oscars],” says Burke of E!, the NBCUniversal network. “We shouldn’t have to make those choices of, ‘Do we or don’t we?'”
The “American Idol” and “Live with Kelly and Ryan” star has been accused by a former stylist, Suzie Hardy, of sexual misconduct and assault on multiple occasions. Hardy says she lost her job at E! after reporting the incidents to human resources. Seacrest has denied the claims and E! announced on Feb. 1 that an independent investigator hired by the cable channel to look into Hardy’s allegations found “insufficient evidence” of wrongdoing on Seacrest’s part.
“This is not about his guilt or innocence,” Burke adds. “It’s about there being an accusation that’s alive, and until they sort it out, it’s really on E! News and shouldn’t be on us. … It will let us know where they stand in terms of how respectful E! News is of this issue – and of women.”
Burke has faith that Oscars emcee Jimmy Kimmel will set the right tone for the broadcast, calling the late-night host “smart” and adding that it should be a “relief” to those walking the red carpet and sitting in VIP seats to not have the likes of Harvey Weinstein in attendance.
Burke, who was a guest of Michelle Williams’ at the Golden Globe Awards in January, where the Time’s Up movement’s presence was felt on and off the stage, says she’s “not a Hollywood person,” but notes: “I have heard from actresses who’ve said, ‘You don’t understand how strange it is that he’s not here because [Weinsten] was ever-present.’ They were expressing a sense of relief at not having to see him and not having to pretend anymore. It feels like the veil has lifted.”