‘I was standing in an ocean of black’: my walk-on part at the Baftas

Laura Bates
Laura Bates and Gemma Chan at Sunday’s Baftas ceremony. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

As we approached the Bafta red carpet, the crush of sound, lights and bodies was staggering. For a moment, excitement was replaced with panic. The actor Gemma Chan, who had kindly invited me to attend as her guest, told me: “The first time I was on a red carpet, I was so overwhelmed I almost fell over backwards.” As I bristled with nerves, she added: “Don’t worry, I’ll be right beside you, I’ll catch you.”

As I looked around me, I realised I was standing in an ocean of black.

Instead of the moderate support I had expected to see for the Time’s Up movement, I realised that almost every attendee, from women in black dresses to men with lapel pins, had chosen to express solidarity with the cause.

Nobody is suggesting that the battle begins or ends with a wardrobe choice. But the show of support last night sent a powerful message that there is genuine collective hunger for this moment of possibility to create a legacy of real change.

When my website, Everyday Sexism Project, and the TUC surveyed UK women in 2016, we found that more than half had been sexually harassed and more than one in 10 had been sexually assaulted at work. The problem is compounded for those who also experience racist or homophobic harassment and for women in precarious forms of work with no HR department. Theirs were the stories I carried with me on to the red carpet and the experiences I shared with people keen to understand more about the problem.

Last night’s activism, from the intergenerational support of the Dagenham strikers to the Sisters Uncut protesters storming the red carpet, sent a message that sexual harassment, violence and abuse will no longer be tolerated anywhere.

Listening to the many presenters and winners who mentioned the campaign on stage, it was clear that the support of our sisters in the entertainment industry has helped to put a spotlight on this issue that is not going to dim any time soon.

As I made my way home, I realised how apt Gemma’s words had been as a description of this wider movement. Women everywhere are standing beside each other. We will catch each other. We will lift each other up.

To every perpetrator, abuser and harasser, we say this: Time’s Up.