With over 500,000 Americans dead and a pandemic that continues to make it impossible for celebrities to safely don their most glamorous duds and gather in person to honor each other, we knew that there’d be a dark cloud hanging over this year’s Golden Globe Awards. We just didn’t know there’d be two of them.
The other besides COVID-19, of course, is the revelation last week in a Los Angeles Times report that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) —the organization of international journalists who vote on the Golden Globes — does not have a single Black member. (The report also revealed that the critically reviled Emily in Paris managed to score two nominations this year by gifting 30 HFPA members with a lavish trip to Paris to visit the show’s set that included stays in $1,400-a-night hotel rooms.) Worse yet, not only does the organization not currently have a Black member, but they haven’t had a single Black member in the past 20 years.
After outcry online — including from former and current Globe nominees — the HFPA put out a statement ahead of this year’s bicoastal ceremony vowing to rectify the situation. (Of course, that’s something they’ve had at least 20 years to do, and they’re only doing it now because they got publicly shamed for it, but that’s a whole separate issue.)
The issue loomed large over this year’s proceedings, with Sterling K. Brown and his This Is Us co-star Susan Kelechi Watson cracking that it’s “great to be Black at the Golden Globes” instead of “back” and Sacha Baron Cohen thanking the “all-white Hollywood Foreign Press” after his win for Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm. But no one spent more time addressing the issue than hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler did in their opening monologue — to mixed results.
“The Hollywood Foreign Press Association is made up of around 90 international, no-Black journalists who attend movie junkets each year in search of a better life,” Fey said. Fey also poked fun at her own movie Soul, which made history as the first Pixar movie to feature a Black lead character but also drew criticism for having said Black lead character transformed into a cat very early in the movie.
“Soul is a beautiful Pixar animated movie where a middle aged Black man’s soul accidentally gets knocked out of his body and into a cat,” she said. “The HFPA really responded to this movie because they do have five cat members.”
“Everybody is understandably upset at the HFPA and their choices,” Poehler said during the monologue. “Look, a lot of flashy garbage got nominated, but that happens. That’s, like, their thing. But a number of Black actors and Black-led projects were overlooked.”
“Look, we all know award shows are stupid,” Fey added.
“They’re all a scam invented by Big Red Carpet,” Poehler responded.
“The point is, even with stupid things, inclusivity is important and there are no Black members of the Hollywood Foreign Press,” Fey said. “I realize, HFPA, maybe you guys didn’t get the memo because your workplace is a back booth of a French McDonald’s, but you gotta change that.”
We’re all for hosts biting the hand that feeds them, and obviously they’re 100 percent correct that there needs to be more inclusivity, but having the first words we hear about the issue on the show’s broadcast come in the form of jokes by Fey and Poehler felt a bit like a tone-deaf cop-out. (Members of the HFPA did appear later on to vow to do better, but their speech lasted all of 30 seconds and they failed to outline any specific actions or initiatives.) Lumping a serious issue like that in with jokes diminishes it, and even if the message is one that came solely from Fey and Poehler, the fact that they delivered it on the HFPA’s stage after cashing their checks makes it seem like it’s one that was tacitly endorsed by the group — that they’re in on the joke and at a point where they can laugh at their own racism.
Of course, that’s absolutely not to say that humor can’t be a tool for social change. But, in this particular instance, it should have been saved for a moment later in the show after the mea culpa so as not to undercut it. Fey and Poehler were no doubt in a tough spot; the Los Angeles Times bombshell dropped just a week before the show, too late for them to drop out from the hosting gig entirely. That said, the “award shows are stupid” bits ring a bit hollow when you’re delivering them on an award show stage. (Especially in a year when, as Fey joked, the ceremony “could have just been an email.”) Like it or not, by hosting the event, they’re aligning themselves with the HFPA. Their jokes thus came off a bit like “haha, we all know they’re racist, but anyway, here we are hosting their event in the middle of a pandemic.” If inclusivity is really important, why bother showing up for an organization that has spent decades ignoring it? Why help them laugh it off?
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