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'Nomadland' And Chadwick Boseman Win Big During A Mostly Snoozy Golden Globes

Technical difficulties and an overall uninspired program were the themes of this year's Golden Globes, hosted by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.
Kevin Mazur
Getty Images for Hollywood Foreign Press Association
Technical difficulties and an overall uninspired program were the themes of this year's Golden Globes, hosted by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.

In any given year, awards-season viewers are doing some combination of reveling in the booze-filled loosie-goosey nature of the Golden Globes while bemoaning the ostensible arbitrariness of many of its nominees and winners. Do you recall the movie Salmon Fishing in the Yemen? (Three nods in 2012, including best picture.) And really, The Kominsky Method beat out shows like Barry and The Good Place for best TV drama in 2019? How?!

The mood going into this year's Globes ceremony was different, however, and not just because the producers had Covid-related logistics to work out for a mostly virtual event. Just a few days earlier, the Los Angeles Times published two investigations looking into the inner workings of the mysterious Hollywood Foreign Press Association, an organization of 87 "journalists" who vote on the awards. Those exposés unveiled a number of details which suggest the Globes are more frivolous (and corrupt) than even the most cynical among us may have considered. Among the reveals: a number of HFPA members were fabulously flown in to France and wined and dined for a set visit to Emily in Paris, the wildly popular but critically reviled show which received three head-scratching nominations. Also, there are currently zero Black members in the HFPA.

On Sunday night, the ceremony addressed the diversity PR nightmare head-on, first via the opening banter between returning co-hosts Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, who were broadcast from the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills and the Rainbow Room in New York City, respectively. Sprinkled in between jokes about the differences between movies and television and an acknowledgement of the pandemic first responders in the audience, were cracks about the HFPA's membership ("around 90 international — no Black — journalists," a couple of whom "might be ghosts") and a more serious admission that worthy Black performances and creators were overlooked this year.

And a bit later in the evening, three members of the HFPA emerged from obscurity to pledge that the organization felt bad about all the negativity publicity and would commit to doing better about inclusion going forward. (There was no mention of whether or not all-expenses paid trips to fancy cities on a Hollywood studio's dime was also being reconsidered.)

Once the awards-giving kicked off, it was often a bumpy ride. While presenters appeared in person in either New York or L.A., nominees attended remotely from their respective homes. The potential for technical chaos was realized almost immediately, when Daniel Kaluuya, who won the first award of the night for his role as Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah, couldn't be heard while giving his acceptance speech. After a few moments, presenter Laura Dern noted the difficulties and attempted to quickly wrap up and move to the next segment; luckily, Kaluuya was able to jump back in, this time with sound in check, and deliver typically charming remarks.

There were many more awkward sound-related issues, merely irritating and occasionally chaotic – was that acceptance speech where Catherine O'Hara, who took home an award for Schitt's Creek, kept being interrupted by her husband Bo Welch's phone, a planned bit or a kerfluffle-turned-on-the-fly bit? I'm not sure, but whatever it was, it was a rare highlight in an otherwise dull night. The producers padded the run time with skits which, even in normal times, would feel forced – saved for a perfectly weird skit involving Maya Rudolph and Kenan Thompson donning faux French accents, anything not directly related to the presentation of awards was superfluous.

The big winners of the night were a mixed bag of the surprising and predictable. Nomadland won best motion picture, drama, and its director Chloe Zhao became the first Asian woman to win the best director award – and first woman since Barbra Streisand won for Yentl nearly 40 years ago. Chadwick Boseman received a posthumous honor for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom in the best actor, drama category; his widow, Taylor Simone Ledward gave a stirring, heartbreaking speech on his behalf. Andra Day triumphed for her first feature starring role in The United States vs. Billie Holiday in a stacked category that included Viola Davis and Frances McDormand.

While Emily In Paris went home empty-handed – Netflix must be wondering, was that all-expenses paid set visit for all those HFPA members worth it after all? – crowd-pleaser The Queen's Gambit beat out Steve McQueen's transformative Small Axe for best limited series, drama. (Though John Boyega earned his first Globe win for his role in Red, White and Blue, one of the films in Small Axe.)

The show was at its best when the veterans were involved. The 98-year-old Norman Lear was given the Carol Burnett Award for "outstanding contributions to television," and, perhaps because it was coordinated ahead of time, the TV titan had by far the sharpest audio and visual set-up of all the remote celebrities. He kept his remarks short and sweet, proving yet again that he is a national treasure. Ditto Jane Fonda, who appeared in-person at the Rainbow Room to accept the other honorary award of the evening, the Cecil B. DeMille award. In one of the most riveting moments of the night, she gave a shout out to the recent works that inspired her, including Nomadland, Judas and the Black Messiah, Minari (which won after being controversially nominated in the Best Foreign Language category) and I May Destroy You (which was notably shut out from any nominations despite its critical acclaim).

Perhaps the one saving grace of this snooze fest was that it ended under three and a half hours. But considering how much time the producers had to execute a smooth and relatively painless event – and that they could have looked to last fall's comparatively successful virtual Emmy Awards for guidance – this year's Golden Globes only further solidified the event's irrelevance, for everyone to witness.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Aisha Harris is a host of Pop Culture Happy Hour.