Award Shows Have an Opportunity to Be Historic This Year. Why Won’t They Take It?

It was a banner year for Black cinema. You wouldn't know it from the Golden Globe nominations.

February 3, 2021 5:16 pm
da 5 bloods
Spike Lee and the cast of "Da 5 Bloods"

This could have been the weirdest, best awards season of all time. With many of the usual blockbusters and award-show contenders postponed until it’s safe for audiences to return to movie theaters in droves, this was supposed to be the year that groups like the Hollywood Foreign Press and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences threw up their hands and — left with no other choice — finally rewarded a more diverse, less traditional group of deserving underdogs.

They had plenty to choose from this year, too. There were plenty of excellent Black-led ensemble films whose subjects feel particularly relevant to today, like Judas and the Black Messiah, which tells the story of the assassination of Fred Hampton; One Night in Miami, which imagines a historic 1964 meeting between Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown; Da 5 Bloods, which highlights the unique trauma of Black Vietnam War veterans; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which addresses the racism faced by Ma Rainey and other Black blues musicians; and the relationship drama Malcolm & Marie, shot entirely in quarantine with Zendaya and John David Washington. There was Promising Young Woman, with its important message about sexual assault and award-worthy work from star Carey Mulligan and director Emerald Fennell, as well as a slew of great work from other female directors, including Chloe Zhao (Nomadland) and Regina King (One Night in Miami).

It’s an embarrassment of riches, really — and while in a year of lesser films, some might even wonder if it’s worth having awards ceremonies at all due to the pandemic attaching an unwritten asterisk to them, the limited amount of traditional Hollywood fare opened the door for this year’s awards season to be truly historic. And yet, when the Golden Globes nominations were announced this morning, it was business as usual. (You can find the complete list of nominees here.)

To be fair, there are some things to cheer about. The Globes did make history by nominating three women —Fennell, Zhao and King — for Best Director, the first time ever that more than one woman has been nominated in the category in any one year. (Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher round out the category with their work on The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Mank, respectively.) But it’s hard not to feel as though there’s still a long way to go after some high-profile snubs.

The Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama category features three minority actors (Riz Ahmed for Sound of Metal, Tahar Rahim for The Mauritanian and the late Chadwick Boseman for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), but it could have easily been an all-BIPOC category were it not for the confounding snubs of Delroy Lindo (Da 5 Bloods), Steven Yeun (Minari) and LaKeith Stanfield (Judas and the Black Messiah). And, most frustratingly of all, not a single one of this year’s outstanding Black-led films — Judas and the Black Messiah, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Da 5 Bloods and One Night in Miami — was nominated in the Best Picture category. Da 5 Bloods, which featured a truly arresting performance by Lindo and was widely lauded as one of director Spike Lee’s best efforts in decades, failed to earn a single nomination. The trend continued in the TV categories, where more phenomenal work by minority artists was unjustly overlooked, with HBO’s groundbreaking I Will Destroy You completely shut out of the nominations while Netflix’s critically maligned Emily in Paris scored two.

Of course, the Golden Globes are not exactly known for getting it right. In fact, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is notorious for handing out awards to whomever its members would most like to take a selfie with instead of who’s actually most deserving. In recent years, the Globes have also become less and less of a reliable indicator of who’s likely to earn an Oscar nomination. (Take, for example, last year, when they rewarded 1917 as Best Picture and kept Parasite — the Academy Awards’ big, history-making winner — relegated to the Best Foreign Language Film category thanks to their antiquated rule that only English-language films can be nominated for the night’s top prize.) So the Globes’ failure to seize the opportunity to honor a bunch of deserving films and creators that don’t fit inside Hollywood’s typical box doesn’t necessarily mean the Oscars will follow suit. It’s still possible the Academy will do the right thing, take advantage of this unprecedented year and unveil an equally unprecedented list of diverse nominees when it announces its nominations on March 15.

Still, it’s frustrating to see the Globes botch it so badly, particularly in a year when the stakes are lower due to the pandemic. If they can’t honor Black films when those films arguably made up the lion’s share of the small number of awards contenders released, when can they?

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