What The Subtly Of Political Statements At The Met Gala Says About Celebrities Using Their Platforms

·5-min read
Photo credit: Neilson Barnard/MG22 - Getty Images
Photo credit: Neilson Barnard/MG22 - Getty Images

In many ways, the 2022 Met Gala did not disappoint. With its theme of 'Gilded Glamour and White Tie' - a reference to 19th century Gilded Age, and a nod to the popular TV show of the same name - there were enough corsets to satisfy the most dedicated Bridgerton fan. There were OTT looks - Gigi Hadid’s Matrix-worthy puffer coat, Cara Delevingne in gold body paint, Jared Leto and Alessandro Michele’s twinning - and moments. See Lizzo playing the flute and Kim Kardashian in the sheer £3.6m ($4.8m) dress that Marilyn Monroe wore to serenade JFK in 1962.

In short supply? Any explicit reference to the state of the world. An exception was New York mayor Eric Adams, who wore a jacket with the words ‘End Gun Violence’ embroidered on the back. But, by and large, celebrities who attended the star-studded event opted for pretty over bold, frills over statements. It's a striking choice considering, at the current time, the world is not in short supply of issues.

Images of the Met Gala’s red carpet last night shared a timeline with the news about a leaked draft of a document revealing that the Roe Vs Wade ruling - the one that protects women’s right to an abortion in the US up to 24 weeks gestation - could be overturned by the Supreme Court. The news is widely seen as the latest assault on women’s reproductive tights in the US. There’s also the current fight for LGBTQ+ rights, with the so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill in Florida which forbids teachers to speak about gender identity or sexual orientation to children under nine. And let's not forget the long-running reckoning around racial violence and inequity, the climate crisis and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. In the face of these issues, however, the Gala's attendees silence appeared - at face value at least - deafening.

Photo credit: Jamie McCarthy - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jamie McCarthy - Getty Images

The Met Ball guests haven't always been so light on bold political gestures, of course. In 2021, US representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore a Brothers Veliers fishtail gown to the Gala with the message ‘Tax The Rich’ daubed, graffiti-style, across the back. Political statements also came from Cara Delevingne, who wore a corset with ‘Peg The Patriarchy’ written across the front. Schitt’s Creek star Dan Levy wore a Loewe suit with two men kissing embroidered on the front. US football star Megan Rapinoe, meanwhile, carried a sign that read ‘In Gay We Trust’, while congresswoman Carolyn Maloney wore a dress with the slogan ‘votes for women’.

Previously, actor Lena Waithe has worn a rainbow flag cape to represent LGBTQ+ communities, and, in 2019 for the 'Camp' theme, a tuxedo with the slogan ‘Black Drag Queens Invented Camp’ (her escort, designer Kerby Jean-Raymond wore a matching tux with the anti-gentrification message, ‘Buy Back The Block’). Last year, we saw Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton make his own political gesture, buying a table at the event - something that would cost between £160,000 ($200,000) and £240,000 ($300,000) - for young Black talent.

Photo credit: Taylor Hill - Getty Images
Photo credit: Taylor Hill - Getty Images
Photo credit: Dimitrios Kambouris - Getty Images
Photo credit: Dimitrios Kambouris - Getty Images

The Met Gala, like its red carpet counterparts, has widely become a crucial platform in the entertainment calendar whereby guests can make a stand on important international issues. At the SAG Awards 2022 in February, actors including Tyler Perry and Michael Douglas wore blue and yellow ribbons to support Ukraine, and Greta Lee wore a blue skirt and yellow polo neck. Meanwhile, in 2018 at the Golden Globes, actors wore black dresses in support of the Times Up campaign against sexual assault in Hollywood, and beyond. A key part of the #MeToo reckoning, it was - as actor Eva Longoria said at the time - a way to say 'tonight is not a moment, it's a movement'.

Perhaps the apparent dialling down of the political statement at the Met Gala this year might be as a result of its opulent theme - one which, in a time of unprecedented inequality, has been judged to be out of touch, and Marie Antoinette-ish in its glamour-over-all approach. In the context of this criticism - and similar critique levied at Ocasio-Cortez last year - it makes sense that celebrities might have chosen to play it safer when attending an event that costs an eye-watering six figures to attend.

Photo credit: Sean Zanni - Getty Images
Photo credit: Sean Zanni - Getty Images

However, look a bit harder and the political statements were present, albeit less overt than those we've seen in previous years. Actor Riz Ahmed may have initially looked underdressed, but dig a little deeper and you'll find that his outfit was chosen to push back against the 'Gilded Age' theme by instead drawing attention to the immigrant workers who would have made the high glamour of the era. There was also Hillary Clinton, whose Joseph Altazurra gown was subtly embroidered with names of women who inspired her, from Madeleine Albright to Harriet Tubman. Sarah Jessica Parker’s dress, designed by Christopher John Rogers, was a tribute to Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, the first Black female fashion designer to go to the White House. Evan Mock might not be making an explicit statement in support of LGBTQ+ rights, but the choice to wear a gender non-conforming outfit like a corset and pie-crust collar certainly pushed against outdated ideas. And several stars made a stand for sustainability, from Billie Eilish in her upcycled Gucci dress to Emma Stone in her Louis Vuitton wedding gown.

Photo credit: Jamie McCarthy/MG21 - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jamie McCarthy/MG21 - Getty Images

Back in 2021, Ocasio-Cortez wrote about her Met Ball appearance on Instagram that 'the medium is the message', bringing home the importance of using the platforms we have to communicate our values effectively. While some stars can be commended for pushing this sentiment at this year's event, their subtly begs the question - does the medium still work when most people will scroll through pictures of their outfits in seconds and miss their message entirely? Perhaps, in our attention economy, the stars' messages need to be bigger, bolder and shouted louder in order to be heard.

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