The Writers Guild Awards held their award show virtually, as have all of the awards shows so far. There is no doubt that it’s not been easy to mount these but they’ve all done their best, handed out winners, made speeches and took their place in film history for all time.
It was hard not to notice the difference between the TV side and the film side. Granted, the film side had just three categories and the TV side had multiple. But if all of this was our new normal, if theaters never come back, if audiences never come back, if there never is a “theatrical model” for movies – movies are dead. TV will flourish.
The virtual awards have flattened some movies completely, just blew them off the board like a speck of dust. Other films haven’t been changed much by the process. But whether you are talking about film or television at some point Hollywood overall is going to have to come to a reckoning point that they are very much an increasingly insular world. While they continue every year to curate and tinker with their utopian diorama they will, more and more, cut themselves off from the rest of the country. They might not realize it but there is a massive country outside the protective walls of Hollywood with millions of people they seem to not even realize exist.
It isn’t fair to judge all of Hollywood or all of the awards by the WGA Awards last night. These are supposed to be industry insider awards, not meant for a broader audience. But you’d be hard pressed to find any difference between them and the Globes and the Critics Choice and I imagine the SAG Awards. You will get the same themes running throughout: Trump hate, we’re happy “we” won the election, and why diversity and inclusion is the most important thing to Hollywood. They believe these things also matter to the broader country but I can promise you the broader country is worried about putting their lives back together and worried about the future, no matter their skin color.
But to that end, I’d say, the WGA Awards were a success. I sort of liked how streamlined they were. Watching them, however, and virtual awards overall is a little bit tragic in that the whole point of awards is for that moment when a winner can stand up on stage to thunderous applause, maybe a standing ovation, and feel what it FEELS LIKE to win. I’m sure it still feels good to win, but nothing can replace the ritual. The ritual is why humans bother at all with pomp and circumstance. The ritual is a HUMAN need.
The WGA Awards featured many bright minds lending observations on everything from “sharpee vs. pencil,” and missing the “writers rooms,” all of these from the comfort of their own homes. I saw Samantha Bee’s black cat stroll across the floor like it was no big deal. They are all trying to hold together something they all know is fragile. Everyone is.
The names and faces I most remember from it would include Daveed Diggs and Leslie Odom, Jr., that would be Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr from Hamilton. Yes, they deserve to be freed from that legacy at some point but it doesn’t help when Diggs is making jokes like, “don’t say ‘in the zoom where it happens,’ don’t say it.” Judas and the Black Messiah’s Dominique Fishback was there. Ava DuVernay handed out Documentary Screenplay to the magnificent film The Dissident, which sadly did not even get an Oscar nomination.
It was a slight surprise that Borat defeated One Night in Miami, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, among others.
The two screenplays absent these proceedings because they were not eligible, Nomadland and Minari, will be in the Oscar race for Adapted and Original, respectively. Nomadland is expected to take Adapted at the Oscars while it’s theoretically possible Minari could win the Original Screenplay Oscar. Judas and the Black Messiah is also a potential threat come Oscar night, depending on whether either of these two films pick up steam in the next few weeks. Remember, we’re still a ways off from Oscar ballots in the hands of voters.
All in all, one might describe the WGA awards as very inclusive. It might have been, I’d say, the most inclusive awards show we’ve yet seen (BAFTA will be like, hold my beer), both in terms of the chosen winners and the presenters. The top winners, however, not so much. The Crown, Ted Lasso, Promising Young Woman and Borat, one might argue, are very much “white-centric,” and often the top wins are what people pay most attention to, but especially when you have the major films by black writers like Judas and Ma Rainey and One Night having lost. But that does give us a good idea of popularity overall and now we can say that Promising Young Woman is the most popular of the original screenplays at the WGA, so that means more than Trial of the Chicago 7, Judas and Sound of Metal, at least where these voters are concerned.
It is important to remember, though, with films like Spotlight, Moonlight and Parasite they won the WGA but they also had SAG ensemble in play, and two of them won that award too so they were heading into the Best Picture race with the support of both the actors and the writers, even if not the directors. Of those, only Bong Joon Ho came away with Best Director, Screenplay and Picture. Spotlight and Moonlight won Picture and Screenplay. You could even add Crash and Shakespeare in Love to that list as they too won the WGA/SAG ensemble combo before taking Best Picture.
Had Ma Rainey or One Night won at the WGA, then turned around and won the SAG ensemble, you might have something like that kind of momentum building. As it is, we’re not really sure where this goes next.
However, there is a chance that Promising Young Woman might topple the PGA on the 24th. Slight chance, I’d say, given that it is pretty much a done deal Nomadland wins there. Other possible surprises at PGA (but we’ll do a long preview later) would be Judas and the Black Messiah or, and it still is possible for Chicago 7 to pick up a surprise win there. The preferential ballot will be in play for the first time and we’ll have to see what that produces. Given our own experiments with that, Promising Young Woman is still one of the biggest threats to win there if it isn’t Nomadland.
At the moment, there isn’t any reason to think the awards race as many of us have it laid out will deviate from the predicted track. Film Twitter is excited at the prospect of both screenplay winners going to women for the first time ever – heck, women barely win one of the categories but to have both of them won by women will feel like a major milestone has been reached. That same night it is presumed that a woman of color will at last win Best Director and Best Picture, where three of the four acting prizes, maybe all four will go to non-white actors.
If you think it is crass to talk about the awards race this way – you would have to spend some time on Twitter to see how the awards community talks about it there because that is the primary motivator for desired wins, as it is in the Left of this country overall. Equity and equality matter above all. When you think about it, it’s fair. If you’re building a utopia or tinkering with one, why would you want it to be unequal?
Once these milestones have been met, knowing what it took (a village, basically, a pandemic, inclusion mandates, lots of think pieces and protests) to reach this ideal level of inclusivity what will be the verdict heading out of this year when all is said and done? It’s hard to say. But there is no doubt this will be one for the record books and likely one many will reference moving forward when the race once again gets too white and too male.
One of the big ironies of the evening is that the writers referenced the Black List when handing out the Paul Selvin award to Judas and the Black Messiah but also had nominated Mike Pesca formerly of Slate. Pesca has basically been suspended without pay from Slate for having a conversation about whether it is appropriate or not to use certain language in context. This happened to a writer at Slate, no less, and one who had a WGA nomination and yet this was not even mentioned. Why, because everyone is TOO AFRAID to say anything about it.
I don’t think they will say anything at any of the awards shows, including the Oscars, because at the moment – no one wants to risk the Children Spies hauling them into the public square in a hashtag fury until someone loses their job. It is also the kind of thing a person would only say at a live mic, not on a pre-recorded awards show. No doubt the producers would nix that in a hurry.
Live shows – live audiences are how contenders build buzz on through the season. For such a historic year where so much history might be made the winners and those watching will be robbed of that chance to see history made in front of a standing ovation.
But COVID took that from them. They’ll remember this year the same way they’ll be remembered in this year – as making the best of an awful situation. Trust me, I know the feeling. My daughter graduated from college this year but there could be no graduation, no cheering crowd – just a virtual congratulations. Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby.
Next up, the PGA.