The stranger-than-ever ceremony was also a drag.
Nobody “went home” from the 2021 Golden Globes with an award, because pretty much everyone who won a trophy was already at their house. Thanks to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the always-bizarre ceremony was even weirder than usual this year.
There were a handful of big winners. Netflix’s The Crown netted four awards: three for stars Emma Corrin, Gillian Anderson, and Josh O’Connor, plus the title of Best TV Series – Drama. The streaming network did well overall, raking in honors for The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Best Screenplay, Aaron Sorkin); I Care a Lot (Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Rosamund Pike); The Life Ahead (Best Original Song); The Queen’s Gambit (Best Limited TV Series and Best Actress in a Limited Series, Anya Taylor-Joy); and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, Chadwick Boseman).
Other wins were more spread out. Pixar’s Soul won Best Animated Film and Best Original Score. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm won Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, as well as Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy for Sacha Baron Cohen’s lead performance. And Chloé Zhao won both Best Director and Best Motion Picture – Drama for Nomadland.
There were also a few great moments. Taylor Simone Ledward, wife of the late Chadwick Boseman, gave a moving speech about what her husband would have said if he’d been there to accept his award for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom:
— Variety (@Variety) March 1, 2021
And Jane Fonda, who received the Cecil B. DeMille Award for her outstanding contributions to entertainment, praised many of the year’s best films and exhorted the audience regarding the stories they tell. “There’s a story we’ve been afraid to see and hear about ourselves in this industry, a story about which voices we respect and elevate and which we tune out, a story about who is offered a seat at the table and who is kept out of the rooms where decisions are made,” she said. “So let’s all of us, including all the groups that decide who gets hired and what gets made and who wins awards, let’s all of us make an effort to expand that tent so that everyone rises and everyone’s story has a chance to be seen and heard.”
Yet the overwhelming feeling at the end of the Golden Globes is one of … limpness. Certainly, without some of the glamour and in-person excitement, the show was bound to feel weird.
But why did it feel like the Golden Globes spent the whole evening arguing for their own irrelevance? The best you can say about the sketch comedy bits was that they felt like they were trying really hard. The awkward cutaways to nominees chatting on video screens felt forced and strange. It was never really clear why the ceremony had to air live, when most of the acceptance speeches would have been just as effectively shared as an Instagram Story. And the weirdest part of all was that these issues weren’t really new. So are the “normal” Golden Globes still worthwhile?
We say no. Here are three reasons why.
Reason 1: This year’s show was awful
Did the 78th Golden Globe Awards have their bright spots? Sure.
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s bicoastal hosting job was plagued with weird timing mishaps, but they landed several funny jokes in spite of the technical issues. Fonda’s speech accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award was a terrific call for better diversity in Hollywood that doubled as a humblebrag about how many awards screeners she’s managed to watch in quarantine. And getting a glimpse into stars’ homes thanks to videoconferencing software is still a lot of fun. (Nomadland’s Zhao best fit the evening’s aesthetic in a sweatshirt, her hair in long braids. She had a very “I am watching the Golden Globes for no particular reason” vibe.)
But by and large, the Globes were an awful awards show that proved nobody involved in the production had bothered, say, to watch the Emmy Awards, which were held last September under very similar circumstances (a global pandemic led to hundreds of live feeds from nominees’ homes) but which managed to put on a much, much, much more entertaining telecast.
If the Globes wanted to set low expectations, they started right out of the gate. The night’s opening award — Daniel Kaluuya winning Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture for his work in Judas and the Black Messiah — featured a lengthy portion when Kaluuya was clearly speaking but viewers could not hear him, and producers briefly tried to shut down his speech altogether.
Similar technical mishaps popped up throughout, with Fey and Poehler occasionally stepping over each other and the show trying to play off several winners with loud music that didn’t seem to have the desired effect, leading to a weirdly chaotic scene of people talking in their homes while music played over them, with neither element especially audible. The sound and lighting quality for the various nominees scattered all over the planet was … variable, to say the least.
But even beyond technical issues, these Globes were particularly bad. The choice to end every segment with video windows of the five nominees up for the next award made some degree of sense, but then they were made to chat with each other, as if to find a way to suggest that stars are just like you and don’t quite know what to say to their coworkers on Zoom. Some gamely tried to get a conversation going; others just smiled placidly while they waited for something else to happen.
The 2020 Emmys were far from perfect, but they went off largely without a hitch, and the team behind that show clearly thought out how to direct traffic during a live event being carried out in multiple locations. The Golden Globes, with months of lead time, clearly didn’t put much effort into measuring up. And to be clear: These are the Emmys we’re talking about. The famously terrible Emmys.
Some of that inability to find the right tone for the evening surely stems from an attempt to recreate a boozy awards show of old (more on that below). But first, we need to look at the shoe hanging over the evening’s affairs, just waiting to drop: the investigative reporting from this year that has shown the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to be a non-diverse, absurdly corrupt institution.
Reason 2: The HFPA seemed constantly aware that it’s a terrible organization
The organization that gives out the Golden Globes, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), came into this year’s ceremony unusually embattled. The group’s membership consists of about 90 people, and they’re supposed to all be journalists who write about Hollywood for non-American outlets.
But a Los Angeles Times investigation published a week ahead of the event detailed a history of unethical practices and turmoil. Another LA Times story revealed that none of the HFPA’s current members are Black. In fact, the HFPA, which doesn’t publish the names of its members, admitted just ahead of the ceremony that they hadn’t had a Black member in their ranks in 20 years. As the ceremony approached, calls for the organization to become more inclusive grew louder. And those calls were echoed during the ceremony itself.
HFPA Board Chair Meher Tatna, HFPA President Ali Sar, and HFPA Vice President Helen Hoehne stood onstage early in the evening and pledged, without specifics, to do better and become more inclusive. But even if the HFPA leadership hadn’t said anything onstage, the night’s hosts and presenters would have made sure they couldn’t miss the point.
Fey and Poehler called out the organization immediately at the top of the telecast, with Fey referring to the HFPA as “around 90 international (no Black) journalists.” While accepting the award for Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Sacha Baron Cohen (hyperbolically) referred to the organization as “the all-white Hollywood Foreign Press.” Sterling K. Brown, who came onstage as a presenter with his This Is Us co-star Susan Kelechi Watson, proclaimed, “It’s great to be Black — back — at the Golden Globes.” Dan Levy, accepting the award for Best TV Series – Musical or Comedy for Schitt’s Creek, said, “In the spirit of inclusion, I hope this time next year this ceremony reflects the true breadth and diversity of film and television being made today because there is so much more to be celebrated.”
It remains to be seen what the Globes will do going forward. The bigger question, though, may be whether adding Black members to its ranks will be more than just a Band-Aid, an effort to distract from the organization’s big problems with kickbacks and corruption.
The HFPA makes most of its money and draws most of the Golden Globes’ prestige from the fact that NBC pays the group millions of dollars for the rights to broadcast the awards show. If people stop watching, or if stars decline to participate, that revenue stream — and what remains of the show’s clout — will fall apart.
At present, the HFPA’s public promise to diversify its membership seems poised to mollify anyone who might be getting restless about the Globes’ place near the top of the awards show heap. But there’s no guarantee its efforts will amount to anything more than lip service. And given the HFPA’s failure to address the allegations of corruption, you have to wonder if there’s more dissent in their future.
Reason 3: Without booze, why watch this show?
The most prevalent reason to watch the Golden Globes has always boiled down to: The stars get drunk! Don’t like the lugubrious, stately snore that is the Oscars? Find the weird chaos of the Emmys overwhelming? Well, the Golden Globes are the awards show that doesn’t take itself seriously! Beautiful people get buzzed and make speeches! It’s fun to see!
The Globes have always made idiosyncratic choices that often seem intended to get more and bigger stars to attend. Those idiosyncratic choices in and of themselves rarely have rhyme or reason to them, but if you land the right mix of tipsy stars and a host with a nice buzz going, you can get some pretty fun television out of the whole deal. The awards almost don’t matter.
But that’s just it: The awards almost don’t matter. The Globes serve as a kind of informal kickoff to awards season. Even though other prizes are handed out well before the Globes are, those other prizes are not presented on television, which means that for many people with a casual interest in Hollywood acclaim, the Globes are where it all begins, the Iowa caucuses of awards season, if you will.
And like the caucuses, the slightest of mishaps can easily expose the inherent weaknesses in the system underpinning them. The pandemic-addled 2021 awards revealed just how shaky the Globes are as an awards show to begin with. The comedic bits were particularly rough (outside of Poehler and Fey’s occasional one-liners), the speeches went on and on and on, and the show was too preoccupied with figuring out why it was even happening to just settle down and have a good time.
One moment in the broadcast’s second half particularly stands out as an example of this. Jason Sudeikis, clearly surprised to have won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy Series for his work on Ted Lasso and clearly feeling the wee early hours in the United Kingdom (where Ted Lasso is shooting its second season), stammered through a long acceptance speech that contained numerous false starts and never quite found its footing.
Don Cheadle, nominated in the same category for Showtime’s Black Monday, made a circular motion with his finger to try to get Sudeikis to wrap it up. Sudeikis gamely played along, saying that, yes, he needed to wrap things up. But where the moment might have had some comedic zip to it in person as the two actors fed off each other, it fell flat over videoconferencing software. Rather than a potential burst of comedic inspiration, it was a desperate moment of two actors trying to save what already felt like a punishingly long ceremony from slipping even further into boredom.
The Golden Globes are a hidebound institution that should probably be junked in favor of something else. It’s doubtful they could do anything bad enough to actually lose their contract with NBC or their solid viewership. But if any Golden Globes ceremony was going to risk sending the awards down the tank, it was this one. The 2021 Golden Globes were simply putrid. Maybe it’s time to come up with something new.