At the 76th Golden Globe Awards on Sunday night, it fell on Bill Murray to announce the winner of Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy. His weary reading of the award felt, in some ways, like a summation of the entire night: "Oh God," he said upon opening the envelope. "The winner is Green Book."
Whether or not Murray intended to sound scornful of the controversial film, the internet took his reaction and ran with it. And when Bohemian Rhapsody — a film that has been skewered by many critics for its queer erasure — shockingly won Best Motion Picture — Drama shortly thereafter, the gap between the progressive message being sent on the stage by the presenters, and the worryingly regressive one being sent by the awards themselves, became even wider.
After all, if it weren't for the actual awards, Sunday would have been unblemished as an inspiring night of progress for Hollywood. Actress Sandra Oh became the first person of Asian descent to host the Golden Globes, and in her powerful opening monologue she said that she accepted the job because she "wanted to be here to look out at this audience and witness this moment of change." Director Alfonso Cuarón delivered a beautiful tribute when accepting the award for his Mexico City-set foreign language winner Roma, saying: "This film would not have been possible without the specific colors that made me who I am," he said. And in her acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture, Regina King vowed that, on everything she produces going forward, at least half her team will be women. Many attendees also wore wristbands reinforcing their support of the "Times Up" movement.
But the messages of diversity, inclusion, and empowerment didn't penetrate the major film awards. Critics of Green Book — including the only living brother of the film's protagonist, Dr. Don Shirley — have skewered director Peter Farrelly for white-washing "a black story into oblivion." K. Austin Collins wrote for Vanity Fair: "It's one thing to get historical facts wrong, or to massage them for the sake of dramatic coherence. It's another thing entirely to take something so essential as racial identity — as the inner life of a person of color — and revise it."
And Bohemian Rhapsody demonizes Freddie Mercury, with the singer's "sexuality ... twisted up in a contrived depiction of his downfall and a made-up split between him and the band." What's more, the film's initial director, Bryan Singer, has a career "marked by a long-term pattern of allegations ranging from unprofessional on-set behavior, to wild parties that may have been attended by underage boys, to charges of sexual assault," Indiewire details. These allegations sit uncomfortably in a room full of people protesting sexual harassment in Hollywood. What's more, despite messages of women's empowerment from the night's speakers, no female directors were even nominated for the Best Director honor this year.
Unfortunately this is not the first time a major American awards ceremony has failed to walk the walk after talking the talk: The 2018 Emmy Awards, which began with a joking opening number declaring "We Solved It," likewise "managed to select winners that looked pretty much like any Emmy night from five years ago," The Washington Post noted last September.
Unlike most other awards, which have hundreds or thousands of voters, the Golden Globes are voted on by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, "a ragtag group of around 90 writers who need only produce a handful of pieces for a foreign publication each year to qualify for membership," Vulture reports. The group has faced criticism for decades. Howard Suber of the film production program at the University of California at Los Angeles once called the HFPA "a corrupt little band." And while the Golden Globes have made recent gains in legitimacy, it is a failure of the entire group to not better represent the very progress their own nominees are pleading for on its stage.
Award ceremonies like the one we witnessed Sunday are not just a disappointment, they're a detriment to the Golden Globes' continuing credibility. The voting members fail to do justice to the very artists they are purporting to honor. And until there is a dramatic effort to reexamine the processes that have reinforced awarding such regressive stories, a movement of change will stay infuriatingly out of reach.