Snubs, rancour and a triumph for three women

Golden Globe awards: a record three women were nominated for Best Director.

Do Hollywood award ceremonies really matter? The Golden Globes have been criticised for some controversial snubs. But its defenders say the headlines miss the event’s true purpose.

Amid the American carnage of the past 12 months, one thing remains immovable: the February announcement of the Golden Globe nominations. So it was that a day ago, Hollywood sat with bated breath as actors Sarah Jessica Parker and Taraji P Henson read the chosen names.

Barely had the words escaped their mouths when the autopsy began. There was one cause for celebration. Emerald Fennell, Regina King and Chloe Zhao were all nominees for Best Director – the first time more than one woman has been up for the honour.

Otherwise, the claws were out. “The organisation, its picks and the show are a huge embarrassment to everyone involved,” wrote one critic.

Straight actor James Corden bagged a nomination for a performance as a gay character that was criticised in The Guardian as “a new low for Hollywood”. Two nods went to pop star Sia’s film Music, which has been widely condemned by autism activists for its inaccurate depiction of the condition.

The omissions were even more controversial. Celebrated BBC drama I May Destroy You received nothing, despite being ranked by many as a trailblazing work for Black British representation and its depiction of trauma. The snub “shows the Golden Globes are utterly irrelevant,” ran one headline.

The debate over racial and gender bias in the industry is nothing new. Ethnic minorities represent 40% of the US population but take only 33% of film roles – and 17% of Academy Award nominations. Of the 336 actors who have won an Oscar, only 32 belong to a non-white ethnic group. And before Wednesday, the Oscars and the Globes between them had only ever nominated 10 women for best director.

These distortions are not the only sign for critics that awarding bodies are out of touch and irrelevant. Many have a problem with how nominees are decided. Studios spend on average $10m to court jury members to nominate their film for the Oscars, organising events such as private screenings to improve their chances. Lower budget productions created by less established companies are shut out.

The Golden Globes are organised by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), a group of just 89 journalists who are, says Thielman, “notoriously susceptible to flattery, photo-tops and free lunches.” In 1982, they awarded actress Pia Ziadora for the highly criticised drama Butterfly after her multimillionaire husband flew the HFPA to Las Vegas for a concert.

This culture of excess is embodied by the ceremonies themselves. What do parades of impossibly attractive actors wearing luxury garments have to do with our troubled world?

For fans, the glamour is part of the point. Hollywood has long traded in fantasy, and award ceremonies turn this into a single night of entertainment.

Defenders also point to their non-profit nature. The proceeds generated from the Golden Globes are used to restore damaged films, fund the education of young filmmakers and present screenings at refugee camps.

And while the Oscars are often associated with Hollywood insiders, many of the awards go to the less visible members of film crews such as editors, sound designers and makeup artists.

Do Hollywood award ceremonies really matter?

All that glitters

Not at all, say some. Award ceremonies are pageants of wealth and luxury that should be irrelevant to everyone outside the Hollywood bubble. Rather than celebrating what is best in film and television, they favour insiders and those who rig the system. Out of touch, unrepresentative and laden with bias, they need to be reformed or replaced.

Of course, say others. Hollywood has always held a glitzier mirror up to the world. By bringing publicity to film and television, award ceremonies help to support an industry that brings employment to millions and pleasure to even more. And they provide deserved recognition for those in some of the industry’s less celebrated positions.

You Decide

  1. Is an award worth winning if you disagree with the other nominees?
  2. Is the opinion of a specialist critic more valid than that of a well-informed member of the public?

Activities

  1. Create shortlists for Best Film and Best TV Show of 2020, writing a paragraph arguing for each entrant and choosing a winner of each category.
  2. Devise an ethical code for film award shortlists, regulating what jurors should and should not consider in their nominations.

Some People Say...

“Hollywood is a place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.”

Marilyn Monroe (1926 - 1962), American actress

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is largely agreed that one of the primary functions of award ceremonies is to bolster the commercial performance of Hollywood films. A nomination or victory often serves to increase a film’s box office income. After American Beauty won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1999, it returned to cinemas and made $55m on top of the $75m it had previously earned. After Parasite won the same award last year, it saw a 234% increase in ticket sales.
What do we not know?
There remains debate over whether award ceremonies will retain their influence in the future. Recent years have seen a steep decline in viewership — in 2020, a record low 23.6 million Americans watched the Oscars, down from 43.7 million as recently as 2014. With a gradual decline of cinema audiences and an increase in digital streaming services allowing many films to be accessed remotely and infinitely, the boosting potential of ceremonies might become less important.

Word Watch

American carnage
A phrase used in 2017 by former US President Donald Trump to describe the US as “a land of abandoned factories, economic angst and rising crime.” It has since been used by his opponents to describe the chaos of his regime.
Bated breath
To hold one’s breath due to suspense. The term was first used in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.
Autopsy
The surgical examination of a corpse to discover the cause of death, taken from the Greek word for ‘eyewitness’.
Autism
A condition characterised by difficulty in social interaction and communication. According to the World Health Organisation, 1 in 160 children has an autism disorder.
Omissions
Something neglected, left out or left undone.
Snub
To rebuff, ignore or spurn. It comes from an Old Norse word, “snubba”, meaning to “cut short” or “make stumpy”.
Academy Award
Hollywood’s most prestigious honour, awarded annually since 1929 by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Golden Globes is often seen to predict potential Academy Award winners.
Oscar
The popular name for the Academy Awards, referring to the gold-plated statuette of a medieval knight given to winners.
Court
To solicit favour, as courtiers historically might in a royal court.
Notoriously
Something is notorious when it is well known, typically for a negative reason.

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