This weekend, the 2019 awards season officially kicked off with the 76th Golden Globe Awards. Last year’s ceremony coincided with the peak of the Time Up’s movement, which both organizers and participants acknowledged in words — but not necessarily in hardware. The 2019 show once again fell short of its potential, with top movie honors going to a pair of controversial upsets. But while fans and critics may have been disappointed by Sunday’s milquetoast, moralizing outcome, there’s reason to hope Oscar voters won’t repeat the same mistakes.
Considered the kick-off to the major awards season by virtue of its place on the calendar, the Globes are voted on by the exclusive coterie of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (henceforth HFPA). And yet, the results rarely serve as a bellwether for the more popular and prestigious Academy Awards. Instead, the Guild Awards — Producer, Director, Writer, SAG-AFTRA — are usually more in line with Oscar voting, because most of the members are part of both voting blocks. And yet, the Globes do influence the Oscars, for better or for worse.
While fans and critics may have been disappointed by Sunday’s milquetoast, moralizing outcome, there’s reason to hope Oscar voters won’t repeat the same mistakes.
There were nominations that looked promising this year. The Globes’ habit of dividing the movie categories the same way they divide television ones — “drama” on one side, “musical or comedy” on the other — gives it a far larger pool of nominees to work with and can encourage a more diverse winner’s circle. “Black Panther,” for instance, landed a best motion picture for drama nod, as did Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” and Barry Jenkins' “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Meanwhile, “Crazy Rich Asians” was nominated in the best motion picture for musical or comedy category. Host Sandra Oh — who made history (twice) during the telecast — correctly flagged the moment as cause for celebration.
But when it came time to hand out the biggest awards, the HFPA played it safe. In the musical or comedy category, the controversial “Green Book” took home the top prize, while “Bohemian Rhapsody” won both best drama and best actor (Rami Malek.) The latter wasn’t that surprising; Malek was a superb performance trapped in a mediocre film.
“Black Panther,” “If Beale Street Could Talk” and “BlacKkKlansman” were less traditional choices, perhaps, but also much more interesting. On the other hand, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” an all-white and nearly all-male biopic which stretched the truth to unnecessarily moralize about the virtues of living a conventional lifestyle is exactly the kind of film the Globes is supposed to be able to see through. To be fair, the “Rhapsody” producers seemed as shocked as anyone. Original director Bryan Singer, who is rumored to have a Harvey Weinstein-level laundry-list of whispered sexual assault allegations trailing him, walked off the set halfway through filming. No one on stage thanked him, but his presence hung over the speeches like a ghost, or perhaps Voldemort.
“Green Book” too faced controversy after critics alleged it similarly stretched the truth to moralize on racial relations. The 1950s-era film about the friendship between Don Shirley, an African-American musical genius and his white, working-class chauffeur was written and directed by white people, leaving some to question its bona fides. And while supposedly based on a true story, the film felt pigeonholed into the same kind of feel-good race-relations parable Hollywood has been peddling since Sidney Poitier demanded to be called Mr. Tibbs in “The Heat of the Night. Shirley’s remaining family has decried the movie as a work of fiction made up by the chauffeur’s son, and declared they were boycotting the film.
That the heavily white and heavily European HFPA chose to fete moralizing fairy tales is perhaps not surprising, but it was troubling. It did not help either that Bryan Singer, who was not in attendance, immediately took to Instagram to claim credit for “Bohemian Rhapsody’s” win. Nor did it help that “Green Book” director Peter Farrelly, lectured the audience about race relations in America in his acceptance speech, as the production’s handful of people of color were pushed to the edges of the crowd. It was left to Mahershala Ali to defend the movie from critics backstage.
The Golden Globes are supposed to be where the more daring choices are made, because of their smaller, more exclusive voting bloc. Trying to pick films based on middle-of-the-road, conservative-leaning values is typically what gets the Oscars in trouble and leads to films like “Crash” winning over groundbreaking films like “Brokeback Mountain.”
But it’s possible the Academy Awards will actually end-up benefiting from the Globe drama. Wins in the Globes' major movie categories can sometimes act as litmus tests for the ceremonies that follow. Consider for instance how James Franco's Golden Globes win last year gave rise to a massive backlash, derailing his nominations elsewhere and (rightly) dashing his Oscar hopes, after multiple women came forward alleging troubling sexual harassment claims against the actor. “Green Book” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” might have taken home the trophies this time, but the response to both suggests neither will have an easy time in February.
CORRECTION (Jan. 7, 2018, 5:44 p.m.): An earlier version of this story misidentified the director of "If Beale Street Could Talk." The film's director is Barry Jenkins, not Steve McQueen.