The Globes don’t seem so golden anymore.
Sunday’s telecast, beamed in from separate stages in New York and Los Angeles, lacked the boozy revelry of a typical Golden Globes ceremony. Like last September’s Emmys, winners accepted their trophies virtually, an understandable pandemic precaution that robs us of celebrity spontaneity. What is an awards show without reaction shots? Without red-carpet couture? What are the Globes without those champagne-sloshed — or, in the case of Jack Nicholson, Valium-sloshed — speeches that come late in the night? The Globes often claim to be “the party of the year,” but this was the year no one could party.
The awards themselves are worth litigating, too. It was exciting to see Daniel Kaluuya, “Ted Lasso” and director Chloé Zhao win, but recent investigations by the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times detailed what some observers have long known: Studios and networks court the tax-exempt Hollywood Foreign Press Association with pricey gifts, galas, travel and handwritten holiday cards.
That makes it impossible to trust the Globes as a gauge of quality. Votes are, in some cases, bought. And even when they aren’t, the HFPA compensates its 87 members inordinately — a collective $3 million in a single year, according to The New York Times. Journalists are meant to uphold the truth, but these are mere opportunists. (For comparison, no one who belongs to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, including its elected officers, is paid for facilitating the Oscars.)
With or without ethical breaches, accolades are subjective. Winning or losing a statuette isn’t the final word on any piece of art’s value. But awards shows market themselves authoritatively. They are the ultimate performance of prestige. It’s one thing for potential nominees to campaign; it’s something else entirely for an organization’s whole foundation to be corrupt. No amount of charitable donations on the HFPA’s part can justify such adulteration.
Christopher Polk/NBC via Getty Images
Every year, prognosticators ponder what the Globes mean for the monthslong Oscar race. But treating them as a pacesetter was always something of a misnomer, as the groups behind the two awards shows share no personnel. If anything, the Globes are merely a fancy dress rehearsal. Deliver a rousing speech, and the Oscar electorate might invite you to do the same. The one thing they had that the Emmys and Oscars don’t: ample booze.
If there’s no alcohol and no integrity, what’s the point? Sure, “Nomadland” and “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” winning is valuable PR for the actual films. Maybe more people will see them, and maybe more like them will get made as a result. (Not that there can be another Borat.) But the self-seriousness that haunts awards season now feels silly, and that’s before we take into account the more than 500,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19.
Consider Meryl Streep’s sermon when she received a lifetime achievement recognition in 2017, two weeks before Donald Trump’s inauguration. “Thank you, Hollywood Foreign Press,” Streep said. “Just to pick up on what Hugh Laurie said, you and all of us in this room, really, belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it: Hollywood, foreigners and the press.”
She wasn’t wrong, but to color the HFPA as some sort of progressive bastion was laughable then and more laughable now. One telltale statistic in the Los Angeles Times report was the lack of Black members, which director Ava DuVerrnay has called “old news.”
During the broadcast, three HFPA members offered a brief promise to “[create] an environment where a diverse membership is the norm, not the exception.” But a pat statement will not fix the group’s image. That Streepian glad-handing is what most stars have been doing for the last few decades. It’s part of the job, even among A-listers suspicious of the HFPA’s credibility. In a world where “Emily in Paris” and Sia’s misguided autism movie get feted, the pageantry is hard to justify.
As DuVernay elaborated before the show, “The truth that’s not often discussed is that awards play a part in the economic reality of Black filmmakers, artists of color and women creators in this business. Unfortunately, these shiny things matter to those who finance, greenlight, produce, market and distribute our projects.”
I don’t want the Golden Globes to go away, despite diminishing ratings. They’re fun! But as they currently exist, they reveal nothing about what is happening in Hollywood or beyond. Have streaming services officially monopolized the industry? Has popular culture made meaningful strides toward inclusivity? Was this an exemplary year in entertainment? Is Jared Leto a good actor? We can’t rely on this show to tell us. Perhaps the only way to right the HFPA’s wrongs is to start over from scratch.