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The 2021 Golden Globes Goes Goober

The 78th annual Golden Globe Awards show, with a heavy cloud of controversy hovering over it, began at 5 p.m. PST on Feb. 28. Like many things in pandemic life, the fate of countless awards shows in the past year has been extremely uncertain and iffy. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) pressed on and presented awards to countless actors, directors and teams amid a scrupulous and scathing scandal — to which it’s no stranger to.  

Just one week before the awards show was to take place, the LA Times released two articles detailing the HFPA’s complete lack of Black members and allegations of “self-dealing and ethical lapses.” The total exclusion of Black members was a recurring topic throughout the night. It didn’t take long for co-hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to address the elephant in the room through jokes and jabs during their opening monologue; it was a sentiment that is reminiscent of the #OscarsSoWhite movement that began in 2015. 

“Even with stupid things [like awards shows], inclusivity is important,” Fey said.  

This year’s awards show looked very different than usual. The glitz and glamour of the red carpet and shiny, star-studded tables were traded in for a mix of live Zoom screens and pre-recorded videos. Celebrities stayed home; while some still adorned themselves with beautiful dresses and jewelry, others threw on a hoodie and relaxed on their couch. In place of the celebrities, however, were frontline health workers, who occupied the seats at the two separate filming locations — one in Los Angeles where Poehler was hosting and another in New York with Fey. Before presenting the award for Best Supporting Actor in a TV Series, actress Angela Bassett explained that everyone involved in the ceremony was tested for COVID-19 and followed strict protocols. 

Because of these safety measures, there was a much larger reliance on technology; meaning, of course, that there were some technical difficulties that followed. The first award of the night was presented to Daniel Kaluuya for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture for his portrayal of Fred Hampton in “Judas and the Black Messiah.” Kaluuya’s microphone was not unmuted towards the beginning of his speech, an issue that was quickly resolved but set the tone for a messy, uncomfortable three hours. Kaluuya’s concise and charming acceptance speech gave a small spark of hope that not all was doomed. 

The awkwardness of Zoom lingered throughout the entirety of the night, especially when nominees were forced to talk among themselves as the camera panned aimlessly pre-commercial break. The questions of “what do we do?” and “do I talk now?” made it clear just how unrehearsed and confusing everything was, even to the people involved. Lag and poor connection only aided the feeling of the show’s frailty. 

After a clip of Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” the question of the HFPA’s lack of diversity came to light again. HFPA President Ali Sar addressed the issue directly, along with HFPA Vice President Helen Hoehne and former HFPA President Meher Tatna. With a curt and almost disinterested statement that lacked much substance, the three were quickly off the stage. Including the phrase, “we realize we have our own work to do,” acted as an attempt at an apology but only aided in making it feel forced and disingenuous. The statement ended with “we look forward to a more inclusive future;” however, it seems as though only time will tell what actions the HFPA will take to reach this long overdue future.  

After a silly little skit performed by Maya Rudolph and Kenan Thompson, this year’s Golden Globe ambassadors came to the stage. Being the first Black siblings chosen for the role, Satchel and Jackson Lewis Lee — children of acclaimed director Spike Lee — added a strong irony to the telecast, following what many people considered to be a snub for their father’s 2020 film, “Da 5 Bloods,” which was notably not recognized in any category. Aside from being the first siblings of color to be chosen as ambassadors, Satchel Lee also became the first openly queer ambassador in the awards show’s history. Satchel Lee chose to give her $25,000 grant from the HFPA to Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, a New York organization that provides comprehensive medical care to people in the LGBTQ community. Her brother, Jackson, chose to give his to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, a national community mentoring program. 

American producer and TV writer Norman Lear, who worked on sitcoms such as “Maude” and “All in the Family,” received the Carol Burnett Award for his contribution to a progressive dialogue using TV shows throughout his career. Similarly, actor and activist Jane Fonda was awarded the Cecil B. DeMille Award for her trailblazing career and continuing activism in contemporary issues. Fonda delivered an earnest speech that addressed the need for inclusivity and diversity in storytelling that overshadowed the HFPA’s attempt and truly spoke to the topic of the night. Fonda also mentioned Michaela Cole’s HBO series, “I May Destroy You,” as a piece of media that was wrongfully unrecognized, a sentiment that has been shared by many during this awards season. 

However, not all was exclusion and gloom, with more history being made by significant winner Chloé Zhao. Zhao won both Best Director for a Motion Picture and Best Motion Picture Drama for her critically acclaimed film, “Nomadland,” which stars Frances McDormand. Zhao quoted one of the nomads in her film in her acceptance speech and stated that“compassion is the breakdown of all the barriers between us … your pain is my pain.” Zhao was a projected winner for both categories and became the first Asian American woman and second woman ever to take home Best Director — Barbara Streisand was the first to win in 1984  for her film, “Yentl (1983).”

The night was a big one for Netflix’s “The Crown,” which won four out of the four categories it was nominated in. Actors Emma Corrin, Gillian Anderson and Josh O’ Connor all won in their respective acting categories, and the show itself was awarded Best TV Series Drama. 

Sacha Baron Cohen brought his blunt but comedic political satirical self to his acceptance speeches for Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and Best Actor in the same category for his film, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.” In his speech, he also addressed the lack of diversity controversy by thanking the “all white Hollywood Foreign Press” and poked fun at political figures Rudy Giuliani and former President Donald Trump, who both played important roles in his 2020 mockumentary satire. 

The night also housed an emotional speech from late actor Chadwick Boseman’s wife, Taylor Simone Ledward, when she accepted his award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama. In an emotional and heartfelt speech, she gracefully articulates her gratitude. 

“I don’t have his words, but we have to take all the moments to celebrate those we love, so thank you, HFPA, for this opportunity to do exactly that,” Ledward said. 

In an earlier segment of the show that acted as a tribute and moment of remembrance, TikTok star La’Ron Hines asked several children who Boseman is, with all of them correctly identifying him as the Black Panther.

Controversy has followed awards shows like the Golden Globes around since their conception; however, in more recent years, that controversy has begun to overshadow the awards themselves. Instead of being a fun night with drinking celebrities and ultimately arbitrary accolades, this year’s show was shrouded in a dark truth: Hollywood’s continuing problem with racism and diversity. With no real surprises or nominee underdogs, the 78th annual Golden Globes will be likely remembered for its unconventional format and significant political undertones, much more prominent than years past. 

Hilary Gil is an Entertainment Staff Writer. She can be reached at hsgil@uci.edu.