If you’d like to read a full throated defense of Comcast’s decision to put the Globes in a time out for a year so you can read Clayton Davis’ piece at Variety. But I’m going to offer a different view.
I’ll start by saying that whatever the HFPA and the activists have to do to work out a solution to the problems they have named and are addressing, that is up to them. It is not for any of us to say what they should do or what people should protest. In America, everyone has a right to protest anything they want, and that includes awards shows. What I will do, however, is clarify one thing that is not really talked about much because it is just too hot to touch. That is intent.
There is a debate that rages online about intent. The new agreed upon tactic among many is that intent does not matter. You are still the thing you are accused of being whether you intended harm or not. If you are a professor and you say “the n word,” even just that, you can be fired for harm whether you intended it or not. It’s a slippery sucker too. It sort of pops up anytime someone feels harm. They can make the accusation that you caused it, whether you intended to or not and there must be consequences.
But I think intent does matter. I think it’s the difference between hate speech and speech others might find offensive. There is a difference. One is intended as a direct attack, and one is said by someone who either doesn’t know they shouldn’t say it or doesn’t want to play by the ever-changing rules of language. To that end and as far as the Golden Globes are concerned, I do want to say that intent matters. Like so many other institutions in Hollywood now, intent matters. Did they intend not to hire any black members in all of their history? Clearly no. Did they think about it at all? Probably not. The reason being, the market has been making the decisions for Hollywood for a long time. Clearly, the market has changed as the younger generations have demanded visible, concrete change. What you are seeing now with massive corporations like Nike or Coke or Comcast are companies shifting to what they think are market decisions – as in, what will drive their profits higher – being well thought of or being tainted.
But prior to now, as the rise of feminism and Black Power movements of the 60s and 70s shifted film to become much more diverse, the market in the 1980s drove white-dominated films to the top of the pile once again. I remember when they would not even put a Black woman on the cover of a fashion magazine because they said it would not sell. Now, of course, that simply isn’t the case. The explosion of content competition means no one has a monopoly on eyeballs or Gen-Z bucks. Being diverse is a major plus now.
It is hard not to notice, in fact, just how white the Oscars have been up until the last decade or so with a few notable exceptions. Back in 1999, the percentage of Black Americans was 13%. Now, it’s still roughly 13-16%. The population that will see the most growth heading into 2050 would be Hispanic or Latino citizens, but it is expected that the Black population will stay at roughly 13%. Social media, however, has given the Black community an unprecedented amount of voice and power online for the first time in American history. That has generated the kind of change we’re seeing now. But in fact, as of now, white people are still 75-79% as of this census report, which is roughly the same percentage of white Oscar voters. The majority of ticket buyers were likely white. This is changing, albeit slowly. From Statista:
The only thing I know about the Hollywood Foreign Press is that they’re lifers. They have under 100 members, and they don’t let people in very often. They’re not like the Academy that invites new members every year or the DGA or the PGA or SAG. They have mostly maintained their same numbers for years. And they’re old. A lot of them have been in the organization for decades. What they have cared about, as the saying goes, is the biggest stars being at their show. Up until the last decade or two, those big stars have been primarily white. Those who get the nominations, so the saying goes, are those they want at the show. Ergo, more white stars, higher ratings. In this case, I do not think their INTENT was to block Black people from their membership or their show, nor do I necessarily think their nominees would have changed much had they included Black members, not to the degree people want to see.
Whether the HFPA can do what is demanded of them so that activists and those who are protesting them are satisfied remains to be seen. But let’s put aside for the moment and focus instead on why I think they matter just in terms of the Oscar race itself, from my perspective. For many who read this site and cover the Oscars, none of this will matter because to them representation is the only thing that matters, and if it isn’t inclusive and fair, there is no point to the awards. The market still matters where television shows are concerned. That will require people to be interested in the show — how to do that and also satisfy the activists and the growing calls for change is the conundrum.
But here is what I value with the Golden Globes, especially lately: they are a bulwark against the groupthink that film criticism has become. It isn’t really criticism now. It is a hive mind. Each person is their own brand online, which means they can’t risk that brand by stepping out of line. If Film Twitter likes A Star is Born you pretty much have to be on board. The more you agree, the more liked you are, the more your posts get likes. And voila – brain drugs. It is extremely difficult to step outside the group – you can, but you’ll be punished for it.
This has been true for a while now with very little exceptions. But the thing is, the HFPA and maybe the National Board of Review (they’re probably the next group to get interrogated) are somehow not plugged into the group think. That, along with their early date schedule, makes them highly influential in the Oscar race, even more than film critics. Why? Because they offer both some of the critics choices but also some of the mainstream choices like Bohemian Rhapsody or Green Book that the critics ignore. So you might say GOOD, those movies sucked. But here’s the thing, they didn’t suck, not to the people outside the bubble of the awards race and film criticism.
The critics, for the past year or two, have been very much an activist group making change. They have been pushing women directors and filmmakers of color for a while now – both to be good people and do good things but also to be admired by their peers because if you don’t do that you can be accused of being a misogynist, a homophobe, or a racist. It is a protective measure across the board.
The Globes, up until now, did not care about that. They aren’t Film Twitter aka Rotten Tomatoes. They are separate. Of course, to most, they see them as easily wooed by big money and movie stars. Put them in a room with George Clooney and what can’t they get from them. I once stood in line in Cannes with an HFPA member, one I have seen in some of their videos, and she told me she was off to a yacht party with Natalie Portman. No group has been more courted and seduced by celebrities and perks than the Globes. Even by many of those who are now pearl clutching, shocked SHOCKED that gambling is going on here. Yes, even by them.
Films and the Oscar race are micromanaged. The films are grown like hot house flowers, made specifically for the awards race, given awards strategists who work like lobbyists to woo critics and bloggers to keep the film “in the conversation,” if it’s good enough. Sometimes if it isn’t good enough but has enough of whatever it needs to keep it going. The films are decided upon by a hive mind of film twitter, critics and now, a growing chorus of voices that scrutinized all movies and TV shows to make sure they are “correct” in their casting, their themes, their inclusivity, etc. Last year, for instance, the costume designer of Mulan was a white woman, which caused a mild controversy. She was still nominated for an Oscar.
So, movies have to be good, they have to pass the intersectional, inclusivity and fairness test, and they have to be film Twitter friendly to stay “in the conversation.” Sometimes all of these things are enough to push a movie through, even a bad movie. Believe it or not, that happens a lot. Gone are the alpha voices who were not afraid to make waves like David Carr or Roger Ebert. In are those who go along to get along both out of fear and a need for survival. So it is all one big snake eating its own tail.
But here’s the thing. The HFPA represented something separate and different. Up until now, they were left alone to do that. They did not apologize for their choices, and they gave us roughly the same voting body for maybe 30 or so years. It wasn’t that they were easy to predict so much, but it was that they winnowed down Drama to five, rather than ten. They showed what films were the strongest, or what actors were the strongest. And to that extent, in terms of predicting anyway, they were the best barometer for opinions that could vary from the critics.
One of the problems with the Oscar race now is that they have been disconnected from audiences – like the Bates Motel from the interstate – cut off, in a world of their own, forgotten and ignored as life moves on around them. But movies are still meant for AUDIENCES, not necessarily only art house audiences or film critics. Granted, the majority of movies offered up are bloated genre movies that Oscar voters can’t stand, but still. How does anyone justify a national television broadcast meant for millions that revolves around an insular utopian diorama they aren’t connected to in any way? The ratings for both shows will continue to tank unless they think about the people outside of the tiny world online. Can they? I do not know.
So what am I trying to say in way too many words? Basically, it’s this: while it’s a good thing to push for change, always, and even to demand it, it might be a bridge too far to accuse them of overt, intentional racism. I don’t think it squares with their nominees, and I don’t think it’s fair because it isn’t anything anyone can offer a defense for. It is, once accused, forever guilty.
I think the Globes matter. I think they matter because they offer up, at their best, both a better view of what people really think about the offerings in the Oscar race outside the bubble of Film Twitter and Rotten Tomatoes, but also because the show itself has been traditionally fun. After a miserable gut punch of a year, we were all looking forward to a little bit of fun for one night.
They also matter because they are the only major group that singles out musicals (other than the Ace Editors awards). That is a big deal, especially this coming year with so many musicals on offer. They now have no way to showcase themselves – and this year, that will be a major bummer. Honoring the musical is a relic of Hollywood’s past but one that is making a return.
Taking the Globes out of the Oscar race, we’re going to have to look for other ways to break up the hive mind that the awards race has become. Some were suggesting the Critics Choice could take their place, but they are exactly the opposite of what the Globes are. Where the Globes offer exclusivity as their value, the BFCA offer inclusivity and not in a demographical sense. They invite everybody. They have six categories for acting, ten for Best Picture, all kinds of added categories like action and comedy star. If everybody gets in, then it’s harder to winnow down the choices. The other problem is that they aren’t a bulwark against Film Twitter. They ARE Film Twitter. They could rebrand their awards show and call it the Film Twitter Awards (honestly, that isn’t a bad idea…someone should do that).
The Critics Choice seek to please everyone. The Globes did the opposite. We do have the guild awards, and they will likely rise to become more prominent like the PGA or the DGA. I would say the SAG Awards, but probably no group has given themselves over to politics more than they have of late. The bigger guilds are less concerned about their brand.
I guess we’ll see how it goes. As always, I try to offer you my honest opinion, whether I get screamed at or not (usually I get screamed at). I’ll here here covering it as long as I’m able. The show won’t go on but it must and as Samuel Beckett would say, I cannot go on. I’ll go on.