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The 2020 Golden Globes Took One Step Forward, Five Steps Back

Photo: Paul Drinkwater/NBC.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, look no further than Tom Hanks’ face during Ricky Gervais’ opening monologue for a thorough analysis of the 77th Annual Golden Globes. In what has become 2020’s first great meme, Hanks’ features don’t convey disapproval so much as surprise, mixed with tired resignation. America’s dad isn’t mad. He’s disappointed
This year’s Golden Globes didn’t fail just him. Despite some groundbreaking moments, the ceremony as a whole felt like a regression, an awards throwback to the early 2010s, before MeToo, Time’s Up, and #OscarsSoWhite forced Hollywood to reckon with its systemic misogyny and lack of diversity.
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For those grumbling that the Golden Globes don’t matter all that much, I hear you (they’re not even part of the coveted EGOT). After all, the awards are handed out by roughly 90 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association — not exactly representative of most moviegoers’ tastes. But despite its niche voting body, it’s widely recognized as the official kickoff to awards season, which culminates with the Academy Awards in February. It’s also one of the most well-known awards shows (though ratings have been in steady decline), more mainstream than the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and less stuffy than the Oscars. People tune in for the inevitable drunk speeches, and the joy of seeing TV and movies faves collide for one special night. In other words, it sets the tone. 
And last night, the pitch was way off. 
There were some redeeming moments: Michelle Williams, who used her platform at the Emmys to address the wage gap, made a passionate speech about the importance of a woman’s right to choose; Awkwafina became the first performer of Asian descent to win Best Actress for her tender performance in The Farewell; Patricia Arquette addressed the precarious situation in Iran, reminding everyone to vote in 2020; Joaquin Phoenix asked people to do what they could for the climate; Kate McKinnon gave a tearful tribute to Ellen DeGeneres’ impact on the LGBTQ+ community; Joker's composer Hildur Guðnadóttir became the first woman to win Best Original Score; and Russell Crowe, who could not accept his award because he’s literally fighting for his and his family’s lives in Australia, still sent an urgent message urging solidarity and action
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But overall, the night seemed like a return to old habits rather than the first ceremony of a fresh new decade. Calls for social justice and climate change advocacy couldn’t overcome the pall Gervais, who returned as host for the fifth time, cast over the show from the start. He first took on the gig in 2010, hosting three consecutive ceremonies before handing the mantle to Tina Fey and Amy Poehler for two blessed years in 2014. The last time Gervais hosted was 2016, nearly a year before the New York Times’ and New Yorker’s damning reports on Harvey Weinstein’s alleged history of abuse and sexual assault. Though Hollywood has (kind of, maybe) evolved, Gervais seemed determined to prove otherwise. Jokes about Felicity Huffman’s jail time from the college admissions scandal and Judi Dench’s turn in the disastrous Cats didn’t quite land, and a rant about streaming services’ lack of accountability had many staring into their mini bottles of Moet. Also striking was a jab at Leonardo DiCaprio’s taste for younger women, thrown out there as a charming fact about the actor — like “Oh right that’s his thing”— in the same sentence as Prince Andrew’s alleged indiscretions with Jeffrey Epstein. 
And then there was the absence of Time’s Up. Watching Gervais lighty poke fun at Weinstein as if he were a benign relic, rather than an alleged serial predator whose trial for rape begins today in New York City, the days (just two years ago!) when Hollywood’s women stormed the Globes red carpet dressed in black, boldly introducing the initiative to the world seemed very far away. This year? Not one pin in sight, despite the announcement of new and important safety measures over the weekend. Yes, the devastating fires decimating Australia deserved to take precedence, but Time’s Up’s work deserved mention.
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Still, Gervais was representative of a larger problem, rather than the cause. The first hint that this awards show wasn’t going to be all that woke came with the announcement of the Golden Globe nominations. For the third year in a row, no women were nominated in the Best Director category. That erasure extended to both Best Picture categories (Comedy or Musical and Drama), where all 10 nominees were directed by men, and the Best Screenplay category, entirely written by men. So many movies this year have been dominated by stories about toxic masculinity, but some of the best ones were directed by women. Hanks, nominated for his performance as Fred Rogers in Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood, is a prime example of the potential greatness that comes from turning a woman’s lens towards the issue. 
In the TV categories, not a single woman of color was represented, an egregious oversight in a year where Euphoria and Watchmen dominated the cultural conversation. 
Predictably, the final winner’s list is almost entirely white — Ramy Youssef and Awkwafina, who won for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Comedy or Musical, and Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical, were the only people of color to take home an award. 
As pointed out above, this isn’t new. In fact, at this point, it’s sadly almost expected. But in the past couple of years, women in Hollywood had been vocal about the injustice in the nominations process, calling out the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for its bias towards films by and about white men. Natalie Portman famously put them on blast  while introducing the “all-male nominees” in the director’s category in 2018. 
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But aside from Gervais’s eye-roll joke about Hollywood solving this problem by just going back to not hiring women directors, there was surprisingly little mention of the oversight. In fact, women were conspicuously silent — on the red carpet, only Noah Baumbach, whose partner Greta Gerwig was snubbed, bothered to mention it publicly. “I can’t speak to the process, but I will say that so many of my favorite movies this year were made by women,” he told Variety, shouting out Gerwig’s Little Women, Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir and Lulu Wang’s The Farewell. Hosts like Giuliana Rancic and Ryan Seacrest, who, in past years have been forced to shift their focus from couture to content, did not even bring it up. 
Instead, the conversation around directing centered largely around Martin Scorsese. Even Sam Mendes, who eventually won for 1917, used his time on-stage to praise the Irishman director. "There's not one director in the world who is not in the shadow of Martin Scorsese,” he said. To be fair, it’s true. Scorsese is an incredible filmmaker who has inspired generations of directors, both male and female. But given the lack of women represented in the category, it felt like yet another celebration of white male potential. (Although it should be noted that Mendes’ film is the only nominee that was co-written by a woman, 32-year-old Krysy Wilson-Cairns.) 
Next Monday, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences will announce its nominees for the Oscars. We’ll be watching, ready to hold Hollywood accountable on February 9 — but if this is what we’re in for over the next few weeks, well, I’ve got to work on my Hanks face. 
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