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The Golden Globes Were a Messy Affair As Usual—but Not in the Fun Way

What the pandemic edition of the award show lacked in boozy celebrity cameos, it apparently made up for in technical mishaps and off-the-mark attempts to acknowledge the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s failings on race

It says it all that this year’s Golden Globes had to stage a messy speech. Early in Sunday night’s broadcast, cohost Amy Poehler introduced Beverly Jackfruit and Francois Jean Rudy as winners for “Least Original Song.” In reality, Jackfruit and Rudy were characters played by Maya Rudolph and Kenan Thompson, who proceeded to rant about vodka epidurals and their theme song for The Crown (available only on Netflix Germany!). The idea, Poehler explained, was to make sure viewers got their fill of drunk celebrities on a night when masked health care workers largely took their place in the audience.

All in all, the pandemic edition of the Globes was a mess, just not the kind we’ve come to expect through years of slurred speeches and off-the-wall picks. Right off the bat, Daniel Kaluuya’s audio cut off as he was trying to accept his award for Judas and the Black Messiah. Later, Poehler and Tina Fey, jointly emceeing from auditoriums across the country, mistimed their presentation of a lifetime achievement award for Norman Lear. Entire slates of nominees were forced to awkwardly banter before commercial breaks, prompting Sarah Paulson to break glass in case of emergency and bring out her dog. Last fall, the Emmys proved it was possible to lean into the awkwardness of a socially distanced award show and come out ahead. Months later, the Globes inadvertently showed just how impressive that accomplishment truly was.

To be sure, there were flashes of classic Globes-y eccentricity. Rosamund Pike winning Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy for the widely panned I Care a Lot is the kind of pick only a shadowy cabal with a membership small enough to allow for true wild cards could make. Ditto newcomer Andra Day’s statue for The United States vs. Billie Holiday, for which she beat out such rapturously acclaimed turns as Frances McDormand in Nomadland and Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman. Emma Corrin’s triumphant turn as Princess Diana in The Crown was a more universal object of praise, but her victory over costar Olivia Colman showed some of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s penchant for young performers they can help announce to the world.

Yet, despite some familiar trends, the Globes seemed largely averse to the chaos that typically makes them worth watching—for reasons both understandable and avoidable. The devastation and grief still sweeping the nation made a boozy banquet tonally inappropriate, not to mention logistically impossible. But even beyond the pandemic, the HFPA found itself caught in a whirlwind of its own creation: its complete lack of Black members, exposed by the Los Angeles Times and widely linked to the exclusion of such works as Da 5 Bloods and I May Destroy You.

The actual awards worked to mitigate that failure somewhat, honoring Day, Kaluuya, John Boyega, Pixar’s Soul, and, posthumously, Chadwick Boseman. (It’s impossible to ascribe motivation to specific awards, but the discourse headed into the Globes gave those wins an added significance.) But tension ran throughout the night, starting with Fey and Poehler’s opening monologue: “The HFPA is made up of around 90 international—no Black—journalists …” This year’s Golden Globe Ambassadors, the title once cringingly known as Miss Golden Globe, were Spike Lee’s children Satchel and Jackson, whose very presence underscored their father’s absence. And three HFPA officials even appeared onstage to outright apologize, pledging to create “an environment where diverse membership is the norm, not the exception”—whatever that means.

Regardless of the discomfort, the HFPA should absolutely engage in this kind of introspection. Whether the telecast was the proper venue to do so, as opposed to more concrete measures like structural reforms or charitable grants, is a different question. Well intentioned as they were, such mea culpas only added to the sense that the Globes had crossed over into the bad kind of sloppy, like a celebration that curdles from euphoria into drunken sobs.

Among the major award shows, the Globes are perhaps uniquely vulnerable to the pressures of a pandemic show. It’s common knowledge among Oscars watchers that the awards themselves are of little consequence, conferred by a small band of outsiders rather than a jury of storytellers’ peers. Instead, the Globes are all about the party—and the very unseriousness that typically makes them a looser, more laid-back version of a black-tie affair also makes them look rather slight when the music stops and the lights turn on. The producers even upped their own level of difficulty by attempting to stage two concurrent ceremonies in New York and Los Angeles, an inexplicable choice Poehler underscored by joking that she “forgot to tell” Awkwafina she could stay in New York. Stuck between Zoom and a depopulated command center, the Globes ended up with the worst of both worlds.

Sunday’s festivities weren’t entirely devoid of high points. Ever the consummate professional, Jane Fonda accepted a lifetime achievement award by highlighting the stories that have helped fill in her blind spots—a fittingly positive way to rise to the occasion. A potentially stoned, likely just tired Jason Sudeikis (it was the middle of the night in London) instantly became a meme and athleisure icon. Chloé Zhao won Best Director for Nomadland, making her the first woman to take home the Globe since Barbra Streisand for Yentl.

But the spirit of the night felt best captured by a bizarre win for Minari for Best Foreign Language Film. Tender and finely observed, Minari is richly deserving of accolades. Set in Arkansas and tracing an immigrant family’s experience, it also didn’t deserve to be siloed away from other American films, a contradiction writer-director Lee Isaac Chung acknowledged in his acceptance speech. Such off-kilter uneasiness lingered over the entire proceedings. Even when the Globes got it right, it still felt mostly wrong.