There’s always some level of outrage during the build-up to awards season. As nominations from various associations and academies begin to be announced, snubs and surprises begin to emerge. It’s expected. After all, hundreds of TV shows are dropping on dozens of streaming platforms each year, and that kind of content pile-up means that even the best quality art can fall through the cracks. And, we wouldn’t mind that so much if it hadn’t become painfully obvious thanks to the most recent Golden Globe nominations that the diversity we’re enjoying on the small-screen just isn’t translating to these awards shows. What’s worse? This lack of inclusion and representation comes even after steps have been taken to add fresh voices to voting bodies and restructure category requirements.
The Golden Globes is a bit different from a show like the Emmys or even the Oscars. The group that votes on the year’s best TV series, movies and performances is a small faction of critics and journalists who must meet specific requirements to qualify for membership. (By contrast, an awards show like the Oscars is decided by people within the industry – actors, directors, media members, etc – as are the Emmys, the SAG Awards, the Director’s Guild Awards, and pretty much every other staple of the awards season circuit.) But they still matter, and not just because their nominations are announced just a short while before the nomination voting for the Oscars ends. Because the voting body’s so small, it’s thought lesser-known shows and critical darlings have a better chance of being recognized. The Golden Globes, unlike the Emmys, delight in elevating new and obscure series, rewarding burgeoning talent, and “shaking things up” while they rub boozy shoulders with Hollywood’s elite.
So yes, watching the show is your best chance of seeing Brad Pitt give a shoutout to his diarrhea medication or catching Jack Nicholson poke fun at his co-stars while high on Valium or looking on in fascinated horror as a tipsy Elizabeth Taylor almost tanks an award category. But, when a show or artist wins, that’s a glowing recommendation, a bit of validation that makes it easier for them to find more projects and for more like-minded storytelling to be told.
Which brings us to the main problem of this year’s nominations, ones that saw fashionably frivolous comedy series like Emily In Paris lauded while more daring, difficult-but-important storytelling like I May Destroy You and Lovecraft Country fight for awards scraps. The collective outrage has less to do with Lily Collins receiving attention for playing a flighty, arrogant American abroad than it does the passed-over talent whose spot she, and others, filled.
Take Michaela Coel, the writer, and star of HBO’s powerfully gripping limited series, I May Destroy You. Coel, an already prolific talent, delivered some of her best work with the show, tackling the nuanced, complicated, and often confusing aftermath of sexual assault in a way that felt relatable but never minimizing. The show’s writing was sharp and impactful, Coel’s acting was fearless and surprisingly vulnerable, and the work of her co-stars (Paapa Essiedu and Weruche Opia) felt equally moving. I May Destroy You was one of 2020’s most-buzzed-about shows – it made our own “Best Of” lists here at Uproxx – and it drove revealing conversations on social media, giving audiences an incredibly raw look at rape culture and the #MeToo movement when we needed it most. But Coel, her work, and the effort from her castmates were ignored by the Globes this year.
That blind spot is glaring enough on its own, but when does one voting body’s lack of taste become something more serious – maybe even more sinister?
Is it when actors like Jurnee Smollett and Jonathan Majors – the stars of HBO’s genre-bending phenomenon Lovecraft Country – are also left off nomination lists? Smollett’s Leti was one of the strongest elements of the series and the actress managed to trend on Twitter each week as her character fought white supremacists and sexism and Lovecraftian monsters on her journey to self-acceptance and empowerment. (Her iconic car bashing scene still lives in our heads, rent-free.) And Majors, who delivered two influential turns last year – first in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, then as Tic, the burdened hero of the HBO sci-fi show – was also snubbed, his work to humanize the struggle of Black men without exploiting their trauma all but ignored.
In fact, none of Lovecraft Country’s exemplary cast – from Wunmi Mosaku’s breakout role to Aunjanue Ellis’ revolutionary take on Black motherhood to Michael K. Williams’ heartbreaking queer storyline to Jamie Chung’s mythology-infused tragedy – were individually recognized, despite producing some of the best acting the small screen saw in 2020.
And sure, maybe both of these shows just didn’t land with the small voting body – hard to believe since Lovecraft Country did score a nod for its overall story but still, we’ll play along. Where then does the lack of love for Uzo Aduba, who turned in a command performance as civil rights icon Shirley Chisholm fit in? Her Mrs. America co-star Cate Blanchett managed to score praise, but Aduba’s effort to bring an almost untouchable historical figure to life and to make her feel fully human to younger generations didn’t also merit recognition? What about Issa Rae and Yvonne Orji, both women who gave viscerally real, incredibly funny performances in the latest season of HBO’s Insecure? Not only did Rae forego treading familiar ground to refresh storylines this season, but she also gave fans an honest look at Black female friendship.
And if this were just a “bad year,” if these missteps in the nomination process were one-offs, maybe we wouldn’t be so mad. But a bit of digging into the history of the Golden Globes shows it’s not nearly as diverse as we thought it was.
In the “Best Actress in a Drama Series” category where Smollett should’ve reigned, Taraji P. Henson is the only Black actress to win within the last decade. (Sandra Oh became the first Asian-American actress to win that award in 2019.) In the “Best Actress – Television Motion Picture” which is the category a limited series like I May Destroy You would fall under (and where Coel deserves to be), you’d have to go back to 2008 and Queen Latifah’s win for her role in HBO’s Life Support to see a woman of color win.
In the supporting categories, the white-washing is even worse. Gail Fisher’s win in 1971 is the first (and it looks like only) time a Black woman took home a “Best Supporting Actress – Television” award at the Golden Globes, though Sandra Oh did bring home one for her work on Grey’s Anatomy. Sterling K. Brown is the only Black man to win a “Best Actor in a Drama Series” trophy in the past decade. You’d have to go back to Jeffrey Wright in 2004 to find a Black actor who won a “Best Supporting” award on television. And though the comedy categories are a bit more inclusive, Tracee Ellis Ross is the only Black actress to take home hardware in the last decade while Donald Glover and Don Cheadle put up wins in the comedy actor space. Those categories also nominated and rewarded Latina actresses like Gina Rodriguez and America Ferrera while honoring talents like Ramy Youssef and Aziz Ansari on the men’s side.
Maybe it’s because the Golden Globes have earned a reputation amongst awards shows as being more laid-back, more relaxed – a place where A-listers can pass the booze and pat each other on the back as for fans’ amusement – that we’ve overlooked the homogeneity in the talent it recognizes. Or, maybe it’s because the voting body prides itself on being a coalition of international journalists and we just assume diversity accompanies those global credentials. Either way, the snubs we saw this year feel like more than just a glitch, more than just a group of people not vibing with what everyone else was watching and enjoying on TV. It feels like a bigger problem.
Now the only question is, will they actually do something about it?