It’s strange to think that the 75th Golden Globe Awards were only a year ago. The image of filmmakers, actors, and guests, proudly clad in black and showcasing their support for the #metoo movement was so impactful, that it almost seems like no time has passed at all. And yet, watching this year’s awards, I was left under the strong impression that all the protests, expressions of solidarity, and calls for change are but a hazy, distant dream, at least as far as Hollywood is concerned. While Sandra Oh and Andy Samberg were absolutely delightful as hosts and gave the ceremony their all, they couldn’t compensate for a night marked by controversial choices.
In a twist of irony, and in jarring contrast to last year’s overwhelming support for the #metoo movement, this year’s award for best film (drama) was given to Bohemian Rhapsody – a movie, whose director was fired amid a flurry of sexual abuse allegations. The feature itself was also no stranger to criticism, most notably for “toning down” Freddie Mercury’s sexuality. And yet, despite all of these troubling factors, and despite facing off against critically and commercially successful films like Black Panther, A Star is Born, If Beale Street Could Talk, and BlacKkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody was crowned Winner.
Things didn’t look any better in the comedy category, where the statuette was awarded to The Green Book, a film inspired by the life of African-American classical and jazz pianist Don Shirley (portrayed by Mahershala Ali). What makes the feature’s win problematic, is the fact that its story is told largely through the eyes of Shirley’s white bodyguard and friend Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen).
To put things into context, Don Shirley was a musical prodigy who started playing piano at 2 and could play numerous classical pieces by the age of 10. He went on to become one of the most influential jazz musicians of all time. According to Igor Stravinsky, Shirley’s “virtuosity is worthy of gods.” And yet, The Green Book reduces him to a “Magical Negro” persona, whose sole purpose in the narrative is to enlighten his inexperienced white friend. Shirley’s family condemned the film – his brother Maurice went as far as to express his distaste in a scalding letter:
As the only living brother of Dr. Donald W. Shirley, I, Maurice E. Shirley, Sr. am compelled to respond to this article. In agreement with Malcolm X who proffered that ‘every White man in America profits directly or indirectly from his position vis-a-vis Negroes, profits from racism even though he does not practice it or believe it.’ This movie, “The Green Book” is NOT about MY brother, but about money, white privilege, assumption, and Tony Lip!
And yet, once again, well-founded criticism fell on deaf ears and The Green Book was proclaimed victor, even though one can argue that several of the films among its competition (most notably The Favourite) were by far more deserving of the accolade. The film also snatched the awards for Best Screenplay (Musical/Comedy) and Best Actor in A Supporting Role for Mahershala Ali. Ali delivers a solid performance despite the film’s questionable subject matter, but his win seems to merely reinstate the fact that The Golden Globes are happy to promote diversity only as long as it stays within the limits of secondary roles.
Not all was doom and gloom, however. Olivia Colman’s brilliant portrayal of Queen Anne in The Favourite earned her a statuette in the Best Actress (Comedy/ Musical) category, while Regina King went home with the award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her performance in If Beale Street Could Talk. Furthermore, her role in Seven Seconds brought her a nomination in the Best Actress (Limited Series) division. Host Sandra Oh snatched the prize for Best Actress (TV Drama) for her performance in Killing Eve, and delivered a short but powerful speech, while Alfonso Cuarón’s visually arresting Roma received accolades for both Best Director and Best Foreign Film. Elsewhere, the stylish and edgy Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – which I am looking forward to discussing very soon – won the Best Animated Motion Picture award.
And yet, despite giving us some reasons to cheer, the 76th Globes will ultimately be remembered for openly celebrating the arguably mediocre work of a director accused of sexual abuse, and for awarding a film which reduces a legendary musician to a stereotype seeped in reverse racism.
I really wanted to believe that, like Sandra Oh put it, “this moment of change…is real,” and things will start improving from now on, however slowly. Nevertheless, I couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that last year’s passionate support for the #metoo movement has been all but forgotten. For Hollywood town, it seems, it’s business as usual.