In normal, non-plague years, the Golden Globes are a fun awards show to watch. They honour movies and TV, so there are a lot of good categories and relatively little filler. (Sorry, sound-mixing enthusiasts.)
Unlike the Oscars or the Emmys, the awards typically happen over dinner. That means the celebrities are drinking throughout, and often get looser and more fun towards the end of the night. Take, for instance, Emma Thompson presenting a screenplay award barefoot with a martini in her hand, tossing her heels behind her, or Brendan Fraser’s now-iconic full-body laugh at a since-forgotten joke about Martin Scorsese.
For all these reasons, the awards ceremony is an entertaining watch. It’s a show we tune into (or at the very least, watch the highlights from). But it’s important to remember that the awards themselves, for all intents and purposes, are a total scam.
The Golden Globes are voted on and presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Who is that, exactly? Their names aren’t publicly available, but according to their website, it’s a non-profit group made up of 87 international journalists based in Southern California. Sounds prestigious, right?
Some of them do work for well-respected overseas outlets. But according to the LA Times, many members of the HFPA work at obscure or unknown publications. And many of them are rich people with very little journalistic experience or output: the newspaper identified one member as Yola Czaderska-Hayek, a socialite, party host and writer who calls herself “the First Polish Lady of Hollywood.” Another is Alexander Nevsky, a Russian bodybuilder who segued into producing and has had bit roles in several action movies.
In other words, the little we know about the members of the HFPA seems to indicate that at least a portion of their members aren’t critics or experts — they’re just a random group of people with opinions, who decide who wins some of the film and television industry’s most “prestigious” honours.
Another issue with the lack of information is that it’s hard to have any clear idea of the group’s demographic makeup. One thing we do know for sure: Of the group’s current 87 members, none are Black.
On Friday, Variety asked HFPA board chair and former president Meher Tatna about the glaring oversight. Tatna, a journalist from India, told the outlet that the last time a Black person was in the HFPA was “before my time.” She joined in 2002.
In 2013, The Wrap reported that Samantha Ofole-Prince, a Black writer from the U.K. who was based in Los Angeles and wrote mainly for African, Caribbean and Black British outlets applied to join the HFPA, but was rejected. An anonymous HFPA member apparently told The Wrap that several members of the group “insinuated, Jim Crow-style, that she was unqualified based on no evidence whatsoever,” ignoring her actual qualifications. In the days leading up to a vote, Ofole-Prince’s opponents “conducted a fevered, if incoherent, email and personal lobbying campaign to keep Ofole-Prince out,” the member said.
That year, the HFPA did accept one new member, a freelance writer from Denmark.
This past November, Norwegian entertainment journalist Kjersti Flaa filed a lawsuit against the HFPA after she was denied membership. As the L.A. Times explained, Flaa alleged a “culture of corruption” at the HFPA, and likened the group to a cartel. The HFPA was guilty of ethical violations, she said. Namely, it served as an excuse for studios to offer “thousands of dollars” worth of gifts and perks to HFPA members in a bid to up their chances of receiving awards.
The judge sided with the HFPA and dismissed the case. But some members had privately agreed with Flaa’s assessment, and had hoped the lawsuit might bring about changes.
“The dismissal was disappointing,” an anonymous HFPA member told the newspaper. “I thought it would shake things up…. We are an archaic organization. I still think the HFPA needs outside pressure to change.”
That lack of diversity is clearly reflected in this year’s nomination pool. Several of the notable snubs include well-reviewed Black-led projects like “Judas and the Black Messiah,” which was expected to pick up more nominations than the two it did, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which was also expected to pick up more nods, and Spike Lee’s Vietnam War drama “Da 5 Bloods,” which received no nominations at all.
Perhaps the most egregious snub was in the TV category. “I May Destroy You,” the electrifying HBO series based on writer and star Michaela Coel’s real experience of a rape and its aftermath, was totally shut out, despite its stellar reviews, sharp writing, and incredible performances by Coel as well as supporting actors Weruche Opia and Paapa Essiedu.
Many have compared that oversight to “Promising Young Woman,” a tonally different but similarly textured, expectation-defying movie about the aftermath of sexual assault. That movie, written and directed by white multi-hyphenate Emerald Fennell and starring a fantastic Carey Mulligan, also white, received several nominations, including Best Director, Best Actress, Best Screenplay and Best Motion Picture, Drama.
There’s also “Minari,” an acclaimed movie about a Korean family emigrating to Arkansas. While many argued that its very notion is a specifically American story, the fact that it contained a lot of Korean dialogue meant it was locked out of the Best Picture category and could only compete as a Foreign Language film, which it did win on Sunday.
And then there’s the question of who did get nominated.
Several of the nominated movies and shows were panned by critics. “The Prom,” a Netflix adaptation of a Broadway musical which received mostly poor reviews, is nominated for Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy. And James Corden is nominated for Best Actor for his role in the movie, despite the fact that the straight actor’s role as an over-the-top, flamboyant gay man was deemed insulting by many top critics.
Sia’s “Music,” which was also deemed offensive for casting neurotypical Maddie Ziegler as a teen with autism, and which Vulture called “an old-fashioned piece of shameless hokum... [that] might be hilarious if it weren’t so offensive” also got two nominations.
There’s “Emily in Paris,” a nominated show which many people enjoyed as a harmless bit of pandemic escapism, but which virtually no critics said was worthwhile. One of the show’s writers even penned an op-ed about how “I May Destroy You” was robbed.
The L.A. Times investigation found that more than 30 HFPA member were flown to Paris by Paramount, the studio behind “Emily in Paris,” to visit the show’s set. Paramount also treated the members to a swanky lunch, a private museum tour and a two-night stay at a five-star hotel.
“They treated us like kings and queens,” one member told the paper.
Plenty of people were outraged at the beginning of the month, when these nominations were announced. But the truth is, the same cycle plays out just about every year.
In his opening monologue at the Globes in 2012, Ricky Gervais said “the Golden Globes are to the Oscars what Kim Kardashian is to Kate Middleton: a bit louder. A bit trashier. A bit drunker and more easily bought, allegedly.”
Unnecessary dig at Kim K. aside, it’s not a mystery that these awards are meaningless. But between the excitement and the buzz and the lead-up to the Oscars, the public manages to forget that, every year.
Remember when “The Tourist,” a movie that managed to flop despite starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, scored three major nominations in 2011? Or that same year, when the campy Cher vehicle “Burlesque,” a super-fun movie in its own right but certainly not a good movie, was nominated for Best Picture? What about when Johnny Depp’s creepy Willy Wonka was nominated at the 2006 Golden Globes? Or back in 1982, when Pia Zadora’s acting win mystified everyone, everywhere?
The Globes are still fun to watch, and joy is essential, especially right now. But please remember: these pronouncements don’t mean much in the way of criticism, and the things you enjoy watching are just as worthy.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost Canada and has been updated.