The Golden Globes *Are* Trash, But That Doesn't Mean We Should Throw Them Away

They need reform, because racialized creators shouldn't lose out on the benefits

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Stacy Lee Kong

Feb 05 2021

9 mins read

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For as long as I’ve worked in magazines, I’ve had an (admittedly one-sided) love-hate relationship with the National Magazine Awards. They celebrate the best of Canadian magazine journalism, which means they define not only what excellence looks like, but also what counts as magazine journalism. And I feel some type of way about them because while I obviously want to be recognized by my industry, I also don’t know if the kind of work I’ve done for most of my career—lifestyle journalism—is what the NMAs consider to be, well, excellent.

 

I distinctly remember being early in my career at Chatelaine and looking through the shortlist of nominations for my colleagues’ work. At the time, the mag was often recognized for food and fashion stories, but I was sure the judges would also see how brilliant our features and essays were. Only… they didn’t. Not to say that Chatelaine was never recognized or that the magazines that were didn’t deserve their accolades; it was, and they did. But it was impossible not to notice a trend in what types of publications got nominated 10 or 20 or 30 times per year, and what types… did not. And the longer I stayed in the industry, the more I noticed how many awards went to white people (mainly white men), and how many of the listed handling editors were white and how rarely I saw myself, or any racialized person, reflected in the stories that won.  

 

Obviously, this is all top of mind for a reason, and that’s the current award show discourse.

 

Nonsensical nominations are pretty much par for the course

 

ICYMI, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association released their nominations for the 2021 Golden Globes on Wednesday, and they were um, bad.

To be fair, there were some well-deserved picks: three women—Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman), Regina King (One Night in Miami…) and Chloé Zhao (Nomadland)—are being considered for best director, motion picture, up from zero last year. (And joining the five women who have ever been nominated for this award, which means 37.5% of the total nominees were nominated this year.) Chadwick Boseman received his first Golden Globe nomination posthumously for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and several brilliant racialized actors, including John Boyega (Small Axe), Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal) and Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah), were recognized, too.

But beyond those few wins for representation, the nominations were embarrassingly out of touch. Despite all of the conversations we’ve had about equity over the past year, very few of the movies and TV shows that were nominated actually centred marginalized voices or stories. Or, when they did, they were treated with blatant disrespect by the HFPA. Take Minari, a movie about immigrants literally in America and made by Americans, which was nominated for best foreign language film—and nothing else. (For the record, immigrant stories are American stories and the country has no official language, so what does foreign even mean?) James Corden, a straight man, was nominated for playing gay. There were numerous all-white acting categories—now, in the year 2021! And the snubs were actually obscene. I May Destroy You did not receive a single nomination. Nor did Insecure. But somehow, Emily in Paris received not one, but two nods. And so did Sia’s Music, despite being ableist, derivative and also, um, cheesy as fuck.

Seeing powerhouse Black women overlooked in favour of mediocre white women who fail up is never not going to hurt. And an association that so poorly judges the quality of cultural production in its industry can’t be trusted. (Which, btw, is not a new critique. The HFPA is not actually very authoritative and widely considered corrupt.) So, it’s no wonder that I saw so many people saying we shouldn’t even be paying attention to these awards shows, which is a fair and totally understandable defence mechanism.

 

But… is it actually the right move? I’m not so sure.

 

What do award shows actually accomplish?


A few years after that first NMA disappointment, I remember being in a meeting with an exec who was downright dismissive of awards in general. I think he was trying to say that we should know we did good work even without external validation, but what he actually said was that they don’t matter at all. And even at that early point in my career, I knew enough to kind of internally roll my eyes. Like, yeah bro. They don’t matter for you.

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But awards, whether they’re for journalism or TV and movies, matter quite a lot from a business perspective. As Robyn Bahr explained in Hollywood Reporter, “[they’re] a numbers game (and a marketing event). Sure, the Oscars like films that make a lot of dough from the outset… but once a film receives a nomination, it also typically gets an ‘awards bump’—a surge in profits from folks who trek to theaters (or, increasingly, their on-demand accounts) to see what all the fuss is about.”

 

And it goes beyond immediate financial benefits. Awards contribute to a star’s or director’s profile, which in turn contributes to their bankability. Every studio executive in Hollywood is making decisions centred around profit—how much is this project going to make me, and is it an investment that will profit me later? That’s why casting depends on not just who fits the role best, but who studios think audiences will pay money to see. Actors and directors who have earned awards, and therefore amassed name recognition, are going to have an easier time getting jobs, being listened to when they have ideas or criticism and finding funding for their own projects. “The Oscars lifted director Debra Granik's profile and made a star of Jennifer Lawrence in 2010 when $2 million Sundance sensation Winter's Bone ended up with four nominations,” Bahr points out. “The film has, in turn, paved the way for female auteurs like Kelly Reichardt (Certain Women) and Chloé Zhao to gain cred in the industry.”

 

The impact can be even more powerful for actors and directors from underrepresented groups. Moonlight’s award-show accolades catapulted Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome and Mahershala Ali to a different stratosphere of their careers. And while director Bong Joon-ho had already seen considerable success before Parasite cleaned up at the Oscars, he wasn't a household name. Post-Oscars, though, audiences who might never otherwise have decided to seek out a South Korean film did, and he now has the freedom to make whatever he wants. Also, the movie became visual shorthand for class warfare, and even pushed that conversation further into the mainstream, which I think continues to boost his profile.

Entertainment reporter and cultural critic (and my friend) Ishani Nath points to Ramy as another example. Last year, when the show’s creator and star Ramy Youssef accepted his Golden Globe for best actor in a musical or comedy series, he joked, “Look, I know you guys haven't seen my show! Everyone is like, 'Is this an editor?’” But now, Nath says, “he’s on every best-of list, people are talking about him… I feel like [his win] generated buzz.”

 

“It reminds me of that classic award-show line, ‘for your consideration,’” she continues. “Studios submit movies and TV shows to [the HFPA, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Screen Actors Guild, etc.] for their consideration, and that's essentially what these award shows do to the general public. It's denoting that these are worthy of your attention.”

 

The unspoken message is that our best is still not better than Emily in Paris

 

So, quick recap: There are quantifiable professional benefits to being nominated for, and winning, awards. And when racialized, disabled, female, non-binary, trans and gay actors and directors are shut out of these systems, their access to those benefits is severely limited.

 

But there are not-so concrete consequences, too. “Awards denote excellence,” Nath says. “If it’s not nominated, you’re saying it’s not good enough. So, we look at what is good enough to see if it measures up. And what they denoted as 'good enough' is bullshit.”

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Which is why it makes us so angry to see Emily in Paris recognized when Michaela Coel’s masterpiece was not—it’s a visceral reminder of every time we’ve had to be twice as good to receive even a fraction of praise, much less compensation.

But I still don’t buy the idea that it’s better for marginalized creators to preemptively reject awards shows for their irrelevance, because that also means missing out on well-deserved financial and professional benefits. Especially since there are signs that change is possible. The Screen Actors Guild released its list of nominees on Thursday to comparatively less fanfare. That's too bad, because it did a far better job of recognizing actual greatness, with Da 5 Bloods, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Minari, One Night in Miami… and The Trial of the Chicago 7 receiving multiple nominations.

 

So sure, awards shows may be limping toward total irrelevance. But they’re still powerful forces now, and I think it’s only right that they be forced into 2021 by any means necessary, whether that’s well-deserved and industry-wide mocking or actual boycotts. (Please, please can every racialized actor or director in Hollywood just refuse to join the Golden Globe Zoom? 🙏🏽 It would make me so happy.)

Because brilliant creators shouldn’t have to miss out on their bags or their flowers in order to have self-respect.


And Did You Hear About...


The Test Kitchen, a new, four-part podcast from journalist Sruthi Pinnamaneni about the decade of toxicity that led to last year’s reckoning at Bon Appétit.

 

Writer Marianne Eloise’s really thoughtful essay about seeing herself in WandaVision—and how even that is only an approximation of autistic representation.

 

This truly wild roommate horror story.

 

Writer and Criterion staffer Maya Cade’s Black History Month streaming guide.

 

The brutal framing of New York Times’ obit for Jamie Tarses, the exec who brought Mad About You, Frasier and Friends to our TV screens. Wouldn’t you know, it perpetuates the exact same sexism she faced during her career.

 

Statler the elderly bat 😭

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