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Golden Globe nominations: Films focused on people of colour conspicuously absent from top race

Every year the cycle begins again. 

The Golden Globes are announced and then industry works itself into a fine froth over the predictable and bizarre selections from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.  

Who exactly are the HFPA? About 90 international journalists based in Southern California who we know little about, and are far from household names. Yet, thanks to the Golden Globes’ place on the calendar and HFPA’s multi-million dollar broadcast deal with NBC, their tastes essentially set the table for the awards season.

(For comparison sake, the Oscars cast a much wider net for input, with roughly 9,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voting on the awards, and another 819 invited last year.)

However, for all their foibles, this year’s Golden Globe nominations do reflect the general trends of an industry where movie theatres have been sidelined by streaming, and award shows are still reckoning with the ripple effects of #MeToo movement and #OscarsSoWhite.  

Streaming studios triumph 

Amanda Seyfried and Gary Oldman star as actress Marion Davies and screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz in the movie Mank. The film about the script that led to the creation of Citizen Kane received six Golden Globe nominations. (Netflix)

Even before the pandemic, the new wave of video-streaming sites were challenging the  primacy of studios such as Warner Bros., Sony Pictures and the rest.  Wednesday’s nominations show how dramatically things are changing with Netflix receiving a total of 42 nominations: 22 for film and 20 for television.  Amazon Studios received 10 nods. By comparison, Disney, Sony, Searchlight Pictures and Focus Features all tied with five film nominations each. HBO eked out seven for television. 

As for the most-nominated film, Netflix also leads the pack with Mank earning six nods. It’s a surprisingly strong result for the film about Herman J. Mankiewicz, the screenwriter of Citizen Kane. Director David Fincher shot the film in shimmering black and white, framing it as a love letter to Hollywood’s bygone era.

While the film didn’t cause much of a stir with critics or audiences, if awards voters have one ploy they fall for again and again, it’s movies about movies. Hollywood loves its own reflection. 

Following Mank in nominations is another Netflix title, The Trial of the Chicago 7 from writer and director Aaron Sorkin. While not most inventive film, it does have have effective courtroom set pieces. The Golden Globe voters have a history of being dazzled by star power; this may be a case of quantity over quality, with Eddie Redmayne, Frank Langella, Sacha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and others.

Nice guys get nominated

schitt s creek
The Rose family, played from left by Annie Murphy, Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy and Dan Levy, have enjoyed the love of viewers and award voters in its sixth and final season. (Schitt’s Creek)

In the best comedy or musical TV category, it’s the battle of the comedic comfort food.  Both Schitt’s Creek and Ted Lasso have provided a safe place to smile and escape to during <waves hands around>, and both shows feature characters learning to appreciate each other while growing and evolving. Joining Netflix helped millions discover the dysfunctional delight that is the Rose family on Schitt’s Creek. Now the Globes are following the Emmys, showering Dan and Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara and Annie Murphy all with nominations.

As for Ted Lasso, the Apple TV+ comedy starring Jason Sudeikis was the sleeper hit of 2020 featuring a surprisingly warm turn by Sudeikis as former football coach Lasso. 

A golden blind spot

While critics remain divided on the merits of Promising Young Woman, the film starring Carey Mulligan is now a front runner, with four nominations for best drama, script, director and actress. The movie features Mulligan plays a woman on a mission of revenge following a sexual assault.

While the film takes the audience on a roller coaster ride of plot twists it doesn’t reckon with the real effects of trauma as well as I May Destroy You, the series by Michaela Coel. But that critically-praised TV series was entirely ignored by Globe voters. As the writer, producer and star, Coel created a vividly realized portrayal of a woman struggling with the awareness of what she endured, and trying to heal.  

michaela coel
Michaela Coel created, wrote, directed and stars in the highly acclaimed TV series I May Destroy You, which is based on Coel’s experience of sexual assault. (Adam Slinn)

Is Promising Young Woman, with its pastel colour scheme and Spotify-ready playlist simply more palatable? Or could it be that I May Destroy You revolves around a Black woman? At a time when some of the most vital stories feature people of colour, the Globes voted to exclude those films from their most prestigious prize: best motion picture drama. 

No drama nominations for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. No nominations at all for director Spike Lee’s return to form Da 5 Bloods.  No drama or acting nomination for Steven Yeun’s heart-wrenching performance in Minari. No drama nomination for Sound of Metal starring Riz Ahmed, or for Judas and the Black Messiah, a riveting story of espionage centred around Fred Hampton, the Chicago leader of the Black Panthers. 

It’s notable that Hampton appears as a tertiary character in The Trial of the Chicago 7, which, with its mostly white cast, landed a best drama nomination.    

Without more transparency it’s difficult to speculate on the motivations of the HFPA. 

But there are signs of progress to celebrate, including the three woman competing in the best director category: Nomadland’s Chloe Zhao, Promising Young Woman’s Emerald Fennell and One Night in Miami’s Regina King.  

What to watch

While awards show ratings were falling before the pandemic, one silver lining is that many of this season’s contenders are just a click away. Here’s a few films to start with as race gets underway.

Video on Demand — Sound of Metal 

Riz Ahmed put in a career-best performance as a drummer struggling with losing his hearing and the identity he’s built his life around.

Opening in Canada Feb. 26 — Minari

For all the attention of the Korean roots of this film, Minari is in many ways an epic and universal story of a man (Steven Yeun) trying to provide for his family while buying into the American dream.

Amazon Prime Video — One Night in Miami 

Cassius Clay, Malcolm X, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke walk into a room. From the writer of Soul, a thoughtful exploration of the power and privilege that comes with fame as four icons explore being Black in the 1960s. 

Opening in Canada Feb. 12 — Judas and the The Black Messiah  

Two members of the Black Panthers: one is a leader. The other, an informant. Fred Hampton is the part Daniel Kaluuya was born to play, while fans of LaKeith Stanfield will be surprised by his range. 

Apple TV+ — Wolfwalkers 

A gem of a film that’s been overlooked, the beauty of the hand-drawn animation is a gateway to an enthralling tale of enemies and empathy. 

Video on Demand — The Personal History of David Copperfield 

If you’ve blazed through Bridgerton and are looking for another colour-blind take on Victorian England, try the latest from Veep creator Armando Iannuci.  Dev Patel delivers an inspired take on the Charles Dickens classic as a young man who refuses to be defined by his circumstances. 

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