76th Golden Globes: Green Book, Bohemian Rhapsody, and an Exercise in Token Wokeness

Pop Culture

76th Golden Globes: Green Book, Bohemian Rhapsody, and an Exercise in Token Wokeness

Illustration: Akshita Monga/Arré

The 76th Golden Globes, hosted by Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Andy Samberg and Killing Eve’s Sandra Oh, seemed insistent on playing it safe and speaking in only one language: political correctness.

Of course, there were pivotal moments: Oh made history thrice during the night: She became the first person – and woman – of Asian descent to host the Golden Globes; the first to win a Best Actress award in 39 years for Killing Eve; and the first to win multiple Globes. And as a bonus, she’s also the second person – after Amy Poehler – to win a Golden Globe while hosting.

With wins by Alfonso Cuarón, Darren Criss, Regina King, Mahershala Ali, and Sandra Oh, the night also witnessed people of colour taking centre stage, a long-overdue diversion. The Globes didn’t just acknowledge or reward these artistes but also heard them in their language: Oh thanked her parents in Korean during her acceptance speech and Cuarón switched to Mexican during his for Best Director.

On the other hand, Christian Bale, awarded Best Actor (Comedy or Musical) for Vice, took the most political stand of the night by calling Dick Cheney, former Vice President an “asshole” and thanking Satan for giving him inspiration to play the role. Regina King, who won Best Supporting Actress for If Beale Street Could Talk, vowed to have 50 per cent women in any film she produces and challenged other stakeholders to do the same. Glenn Close ended the night with an empathetic acceptance speech that shed light on the myriad duties a woman is expected to fulfil before she can dream for herself.

And even the two hosts didn’t shy away from delivering the night’s strongest barbs: In their opening monologues, Oh called out Hollywood’s affliction with whitewashing Asians when she claimed that “Crazy Rich Asians was the first studio film with an Asian lead since Ghost In the Shell and Aloha” prompting an “I am sorry” from Emma Stone, who played the Asian lead in Aloha. But most refreshing of all, the 76th Golden Globes, didn’t pat itself in the back for doing the bare minimum, like nominating or awarding people of colour instead of shutting them out.

Most refreshing of all, the 76th Golden Globes, didn’t pat itself in the back for doing the bare minimum, like nominating or awarding people of colour.

And yet, the ceremony undid all of its sensitivity with how it dealt with two of the biggest awards of the night. It’s never a good sign when an awards ceremony warrants discussion because of its snubs rather than its wins: Amy Adams, who was nominated twice for Sharp Objects and Vice, lost out on an award yet again. Lady Gaga lost out on Best Actress to Glenn Close. Richard Madden won Best Actor (Drama) for The Bodyguard over The Americans’ Matthew Rhys. And for a while, it seemed that The Kominsky Method winning Best Series (Musical or Comedy) over Barry and Atlanta would be the night’s most bizarre win.

And then the winners for the Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy and Drama were announced: Peter Farrelly’s Green Book and Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody. On paper, it looks exemplary – the Hollywood Foreign Press reserving two of the Golden Globes’ biggest awards for a film about racism and a biopic about a dead gay singer. Yet, that couldn’t be further from the truth. By honouring Green Book, a middling film that looks at racism in the past tense and Bohemian Rhapsody, a film that vilified a singer’s sexuality, the Golden Globes ended up exposing how it concerned itself with doing the right thing – and perhaps being seen as doing the right thing.

In fact, here’s what the Hollywood Foreign Press Association awarded: In the aftermath of #MeToo, it honoured Bohemian Rhapsody, a film directed by Bryan Singer, a man accused of multiple instances of sexual assault and inappropriate workplace behaviour; a man who was fired from the film mid-shoot, even though his name will forever be intertwined with the Golden Globes. So much for ensuring that predators face the consequences for their blatant abuse of power. It basically acknowledged and awarded a film that sidelined a gay singer’s sexuality and then blamed it for his untimely death.

And, in the same year as If Beale Street Could Talk and BlackKklasnman, films that demand introspection on the burdens of race and racism, the HFPA chose to award Green Book, a trite film that does more damage to its cause than justice. The family of Don Shirley, on whom the film is based, has claimed that Green Book was based on lies – leading to an apology only from Mahershala Ali. Farrelly on his part, proudly displayed his white male entitlement with an acceptance speech that urged people to “stop judging and find common ground,” evidently directed toward the Shirley family’s criticism. If there was ever an award for tasteless acceptance speech of all time, Farrelly would win it in a heartbeat.

The HFPA’s stubborn insistence on not taking the context and the sound criticism against these films into account is a testament to how ill-equipped award shows are at understanding inclusivity and representation. Instead, by harping only on intentions and not executions, the HFPA revealed how it viewed representation: as a fleeting statement, instead of a permanent way of functioning. Last night, the Golden Globes squandered a rare opportunity: To offer award ceremonies a makeover in how they view diversity by reducing inclusivity to token wokeness.