March 2, 2021 at 2:50 pm EST | by John Paul King
Embattled Golden Globes scramble for show of diversity
Jodie Foster kisses wife Alexandra Hedison during Sunday’s broadcast of the Golden Globes. (Screen capture via YouTube)

Going into Sunday’s Golden Globes presentation, you already knew the Hollywood Foreign Press Association would be doing damage control.

One week before, the Los Angeles Times published a scathing investigative report that called into question – yet again – the legitimacy of the influential organization behind the awards, citing the body’s lack of diversity, its oft-questioned ethical and financial practices, and its penchant for bestowing its honors on the films and shows whose studios had done the best job of wining and dining its members.

If that were not enough, in the days leading up to the awards the HFPA was blasted by the Time’s Up organization (along with many prominent Hollywood voices) on social media for omitting several strongly favored Black-led films from this year’s top categories. Finally, on the very morning of the ceremony, the charity ran a full-page paid ad in the Times proclaiming the fact that, out of the HFPA’s 87 members, not a single one is Black.

So, as the 78th Golden Globes began, the HFPA had a lot more on its agenda than simply handing out trophies in a ceremony that has come to be seen as the most significant precursor to the all-important Oscars; it also had to make a convincing case for itself as the sole arbiter of who gets those influential trophies. Whether or not they succeeded might well have turned out to be irrelevant, by the end.

For anyone who tuned in to NBC’s bicoastal awards broadcast without having heard or seen anything about the controversy, things might not have seemed that different, at first. Hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were in fine form, and if their sly banter contained a considerable amount of humor at the expense of the HFPA’s sketchy reputation, that was nothing unusual – after all, poking fun of the Globes has always been a Hollywood pastime.

As things went on, though, it would have been impossible for anyone not to take note of the seriousness with which the evening was occasionally hijacked by such moments as the introduction of Spike Lee’s children, Satchel and Jackson, as “Golden Globe Ambassadors,” or the sudden appearance of three high-ranking HFPA members to offer a thinly disguised mea culpa in the form of a pledge to move the organization toward “a more inclusive future.” These gestures, marked with a level of pomp that made them feel all the more perfunctory, did little to encourage confidence in the organization’s sincerity.

Far more effective were the awards themselves. While no Black-led films made the cut in the nominations for Best Motion Picture Drama (that award went to the Chloé Zhao-directed “Nomadland”), some did take prizes in other major categories.

Both of the Leading Performance categories in Motion Picture Drama went to Black winners. Andra Day was named Best Actress for her powerful performance as the titular jazz icon in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” a film that documents the decades-long persecution of Holiday by the American government over her anti-racist song “Strange Fruit.” The Best Actor prize, in a win that felt both inevitable and well-deserved, was posthumously awarded to Chadwick Boseman for his searing star turn in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

The Best Supporting Actor award went to Daniel Kaluuya, for his work in “Judas and the Black Messiah.” Among the competitors he beat out was Leslie Odom Jr., nominated for his performance as Sam Cooke in the Regina King-directed “One Night in Miami.” King joined Zhao and Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Women”) as one of three female nominees for Best Director – a category that has previously only included five women in its entire history. Zhao took the win, becoming the first Asian-American female to do so.

The sole Black winner among the television categories was John Boyega, awarded Best Supporting Actor in a Series for his performance in “Small Axe.” The only other Black nominee, Don Cheadle (for his role in “Black Monday”), lost to Jason Sudeikis (“Ted Lasso”), whose self-effacing acceptance speech was one of the evening’s most markedly humanizing moments.

As for LGBTQ representation, many of the categories featured films that included LGBTQ characters, storylines, and performers. In the awards for television, the most obvious nod to queer audiences was the win by “Schitt’s Creek” for Best Comedy Series, and by its beloved star Catherine O’Hara for Leading Comedy Actress. Ryan Murphy’s “Ratched,” which had received nods for out actresses Sarah Paulson and Cynthia Nixon, failed to score a win.

On the movie side, Murphy’s screen version of the Broadway musical “The Prom,” about the fight for queer inclusivity at a high school, also ended the evening empty-handed, as did “Two of Us,” a lesbian-themed French drama up for Best Foreign Language Film category. But there were wins too; the aforementioned acting honors for “Billie Holiday” and “Ma Rainey” came for films that incorporated the bisexuality of their real-life subjects; “The Life Ahead,” which featured a significant trans character, won for Best Song; and Rosamund Pike took the award for Best Actress in Comedy/Musical for playing a lesbian grifter in “I Care a Lot.”

The biggest gay victory of the evening, arguably, was reserved for out film legend Jodie Foster, who not only won Best Supporting Actress for her performance in “The Mauritanian,” but gave viewers the treat of seeing her share an enthusiastic kiss on the couch with wife Alexandra Hedison before launching into her acceptance speech. It was perhaps the most memorable, and certainly the most unequivocally triumphant, among many such spontaneous, intimate surprises during the broadcast.

It’s that kind of unexpected authenticity that ultimately saved the Golden Globes, at least in the moment, from its sins. In a broadcast stripped of its usual lavish trappings by the necessity of producing a scaled-down-for-COVID version of one of Hollywood’s most excessive celebrity parties, what gradually became apparent was how little the Globes themselves – or any of the industry’s other self-congratulatory awards – actually matter in a world enveloped by much bigger concerns. The movie stars, like the rest of us, were viewing from home; watching them negotiate the awkward fumbles and technical mishaps of the Zoom-style interface that is now painfully familiar to us all, seeing the way their unfiltered reactions mirrored our own, recognizing the tenderness and affection we share with our loved ones in the private moments we saw them share with theirs – these glimpses of common humanity felt far more significant than any of the accolades being awarded. The egalitarian sentiment they evoked, unintended and unforeseen, far overshadowed the heavy-handed efforts made by the HFPA to save face for its missteps.

Make no mistake though – those missteps matter. The Golden Globes have a long way to go before they can prove the sincerity of their stated intention to create a more diverse membership and promote a more inclusive industry. Last Sunday’s fumble of an awards show may have been elevated, in spite of itself, by the human element that crept in around its edges, but that’s not enough to get the HFPA off the hook.

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