Highs and Lows of the 2021 Golden Globes

(From L to R) Simone Ledward Boseman and Chloé Zhao as they appeared during the 2021 Golden Globes

Even after their crown jewel awards show last night, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) is in free-fall. After a final two weeks of a lead-up that included a damning L.A. Times exposé that focused on their “self-dealing” and “ethical lapses” and renewed scrutiny on the HFPA’s lack of a single Black member led by Time’s Up, there was far more discussion about the future of the HFPA and the Golden Globes than about who might win the night’s awards. Even before taking that all into account, the reality of a majority virtual event meant that there were endless question marks about how exactly a show usually known for celebrities getting drunk in a room together would sustain any reason for audiences to watch. It turns out that the HFPA possessed not a single good answer to those questions and co-hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler did little to assist them.

To best reflect on the trainwreck that was the 2021 Golden Globes, I have pulled together a list of highs and lows from the telecast. I arrived at this structure because while trying to write a more traditional column, I found that all of my criticisms were aimed at the HFPA or the hosts, while all of my praise landed on winners and their speeches, or the lovely hiccups you sometimes get as these shows. I want to clearly celebrate the exciting moments that happened at the show last night while also making clear that the HFPA utterly failed at everything they attempted, and a list of highs and lows affords me that chance. I’m limiting myself to three to four in each category for the sake of brevity, but my oh my is there a lot to unpack from last night. So, ascribing to the maxim of “bad news first,” here we go.

LOWS

The HFPA

At every Golden Globes, there is a moment when the President of the HFPA comes out on stage and talks about the organization. In lieu of that this year three members of the HFPA, Helen Hoehne, Meher Tatna, and current President Ali Sar walked out on stage to effectively apologize for being found out. In a segment that seemed to take pointers from Kevin Spacey’s various video updates, Hoehne, Tatna, and Sar delivered vague statements on how they needed to “do better” that amounted to nothing more than “thoughts and prayers” Mad Libs. Instead of cooling the hate for the organization, they succeeded in reiterating the reasons why their group needs to be held to task. They had an opportunity to come on stage and take more than 30 seconds to reckon with their actions and how they can improve, but they passed on that chance and reminded us why we were angry in the first place. It will take far more than promising to try and admit some Black members and committing to “self-reflection” to turn the HFPA from an industry pariah and embarrassment into a respectable or even vaguely professional organization.

Having Nearly as Many Meryl Streep Jokes as Legitimate Call-Outs

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who hosted the show bi-coastally from New York and L.A. respectively, were never going to have an easy time of it hosting this year. While they delivered many effective and funny jokes, I could not help but walk away from the ceremony feeling like their critique of the HFPA ended up being flaccid at best. In fact, during their opening monologue, they made nearly as many jokes about Meryl Streep, who was not nominated or even virtually present for the ceremony, as they did taking aim at the HFPA’s institutional racism. Yes, they ended the monologue with a joint bit on how the HFPA and Hollywood, in general, need to better by way of diversity and inclusion, but it struck me more as hitting a mark than saying something worth listening to. Fey and Poehler may have been miles better than the HFPA themselves in terms of addressing the issue, but when that’s the bar it doesn’t mean very much. 

The Zoom of it All

I hope that Steven Soderbergh and the other producers set to work on the Academy Awards were watching the Globes for no other reason than taking notes on all the virtual approaches they should eschew for their show. Some of it was unavoidable; bad internet connections chopping up speeches, audio cutting in and out, everything those of us who remotely taught have become uncomfortably accustomed to. However, compounding those inevitabilities were some truly head-scratching production decisions. For one, it seemed that there had been little protocol given to nominees to understand when they should start delivering their speeches, and so many paused after winning to ask “should I talk now?” and then in lieu of getting an answer just dove right in. Elsewhere, the Globes committed to the seventh circle of Zoom breakout room hell by cutting to the lumped together nominees from various categories on their respective monitors right before commercial breaks. It was awkward at best, consistently marked by silence and feeble attempts at small talk. The Globes telecast felt like a Zoom conference thrown together by teenagers that desperately needed an adult in the room to help out.

HIGHS

Simone Ledward Boseman’s Acceptance Speech

It was always going to be a bittersweet moment if Chadwick Boseman won the Golden Globe for “Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama.” No amount of posthumous awards recognition can lessen the grief of losing such a monumental talent and compassionate human being. When Renée Zellwegger announced his name, we cut to his widow Simone Ledward Boseman who accepted on Chadwick’s behalf, and in doing so provided the most moving and transcendent moment of the night. Sitting alone on the couch and speaking with passion and purpose through her tears, Simone delivered a speech that honored her late husband and the work he was able to do during his far too short life and career. She may have said that she “[didn’t] have his words,” in terms of speaking with the elegance that Chadwick was known for, but I would argue that her words were just as powerful. Near the end of the speech, she remarked of her late husband that “he would say something beautiful, something inspiring, something that would amplify that little voice inside of all of us that tells you, ‘You can,’ that tells you to keep going, that calls you back to what you are meant to be doing at this moment in history.” I was already teared up, but that line sent me over the edge. It is rare for a speech to truly be a moment of beauty unto itself, but Simone’s words achieved that and more. 

Chloé Zhao Gets Two Big Awards

One of the few positive talking points leading up to the Golden Globes was the fact that for the first time ever, three women were nominated for “Best Director of a Motion Picture.” Those women were Emerald Fennell, Regina King, and the eventual winner, Chloé Zhao. Zhao’s film, Nomadland (2021), is a moving and poetically directed film that effectively tells one woman’s story while steeping viewers in the world of American nomads, a place I imagine most of us have rarely stopped to consider. Zhao winning for “Best Director” was deeply deserved, and apart from the excitement of having only the second woman ever win the award, I was thrilled to see a blisteringly talented director get the awards bump that so often helps filmmakers secure the funding they need to tell their stories. As if that wasn’t enough, Nomadland also won “Best Motion Picture – Drama,” the Globes equivalent of the Academy Award’s “Best Picture” prize. While it’s hard to know exactly what the means for the Oscar race, it underscored the fact that Zhao is a talent to be watched, and that if we’re lucky enough to keep seeing her movies, Nomadland is just the breakthrough on what should be a captivating career. Now onto the Academy Awards, and the hopes that that group will continue to recognize the magnificent work delivered by female filmmakers this year, and that such a necessary corrective in a voting body prone to misogyny continues well into the future. 

Lee Issac Chung’s Acceptance Speech

Alongside the well-earned criticism for the HFPA not nominating pieces featuring Black performers for their top prizes, there was a necessary uproar over Lee Isaac Chung’s film Minari (2021) being labeled as an International Feature, and therefore ineligible for any prize other than “Best International Motion Picture.” Minari is an American-made film featuring an Asian-American cast that happens to speak partially in English and partially in Korean. The HFPA’s decision was widely seen as indicating that any film not entirely in English could not possibly be considered American. It was therefore conflicting when Minari won its single Golden Globe, as I felt happy it garnered the recognition it deserved but also renewed anger at the HFPA’s xenophobic decision-making. What I had no conflicting feelings about though was director Lee Isaac Chung’s graceful and heartfelt acceptance speech. With his young daughter jumping into his arms in excitement, Chung went on to say the following about his film; “It’s [about] a family trying to learn to speak a language of its own. It goes deeper than any American language and any foreign language. It’s a language of the heart, and I’m trying to learn it myself and to pass it on, and I hope we’ll all learn how to speak this language of love to each other, especially this year.” It was an adept way to address the controversy and hold the HFPA to task while also celebrating the power and artistry of his film. 

Presenter and Stars Getting Their Zingers In

While Fey and Poehler may have disappointed in addressing the HFPA controversy in a meaningful way, there were standout moments from presenters and stars in acceptance speeches using their brief moment in the spotlight to take aim at the HFPA in ways both witty and frank. The first notable moment came when Sterling K. Brown and Susan Kelechi Watson walked on stage to present a pair of awards. Brown opened with the line “It’s great to be Black…I mean back at the Golden Globes,” to which Watson added “it’s great to be Black anywhere.” On top of being an A+ play-on-words, the pair used their humor to make a key point about celebrating and not being ashamed of Blackness. Soon after them, while she was accepting the Cecile B. Demille Award, Jane Fonda used a large swathe of her speech to recognize projects that had challenged her to be more empathetic in the last year. Among many pieces, she highlighted I May Destroy You (2020), Micaela Coel’s masterpiece of television that was passed over by the Globes even though it was considered the consensus best television series of the year. Fonda offered no quip, but rather frankly stated that the show “taught me to consider sexual violence in a whole new way.” This was punctuated by a heavy-handed cut to Viola Davis which was no doubt a disingenuous move by the producers to try and highlight any Black performer they could at the moment, but it was still wonderful to see Davis fist pump while Fonda went on. And finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Sacha Baron Cohen at least once in this piece seeing as Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020) somehow win two Globes. In his acceptance speech for “Best Action in a Motion Picture – Musical/Comedy” he opened by thanking “the all-white Hollywood Foreign Press Association.” It was a moment of killer deadpan delivery and a late-in-the-show zinger to send us on our way with one last laugh. 

BONUS THOUGHTS

  • Music (2021) and Emily in Paris (2020-) winning zero awards between the two of them might just be the first true miracle of 2021 and I am forever grateful for that fact. 
  • David Fincher taking a shot each time he lost an award, giving zero f$%@s that he was live on television connected with me on a truly spiritual level. 
  • Similarly, whether it was because he was Zooming in at 2:00 am from England, or because he was high as hell, Jason Sudeikis accepting his award with crazy bloodshot eyes in a hoodie was spectacular. 
  • Rosamund Pike makes everything she is a part of 10x better, and her wonderfully witty and heartfelt acceptance speech for “Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy” simply proved that rule. 
  • Maya Rudolph and Kenan Thompson cameoing as crazy composers giving a rambling acceptance speech was the most successful comic bit of the night and reminds us once again that they are both national treasures of comedy. 
  • Bill Murray. In a floral shirt. Sitting outside. With booze. An icon. 

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