Roughly two-thirds of the way through Sunday night’s Golden Globes, Meryl Streep gave a speech.
She talked about Hollywood, foreigners, and the press, and our need to embrace and empower them all. She remembered her heartbreak when Donald Trump mocked a disabled reporter: “Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence invites violence.”
Her voice was weathered, tired, and impassioned. She made a plea to Hollywood, quoting her friend, Carrie Fisher: “Take your broken heart, make it into art.
She took a moment that was meant to celebrate herself and she used it to say something more: about the power of art, the power of feeling things—even anger—and the power of using our voices. To make a plea for empathy.
That’s why shows like these matter.
That’s why speeches by the likes of Streep, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Viola Davis were so rousing, so beautiful, and so necessary.
And that’s why so much of the night was so damn frustrating.
As so many people on stage Sunday night—be it the record seven winners from La La Land or even the wildly self-congratulating Tom Hiddleston—expressed, the artists are ready and waiting to matter, to do work that matters, and tell stories that matter. But the industry still needs to let them.
This is the Golden Globes. It is an award show and, as has become more legend with each passing year, a huge drunken party.
Trophies are handed out to pretty people—in addition to La La Land, this year’s big winners included FX’s Atlanta and its star Donald Glover, Netflix’s The Crown and its star Claire Foy, the cast of The Night Manager, The People vs. O.J. Simpson, Manchester by the Sea’s Casey Affleck, and Best Drama victor Moonlight.
Many of the decisions were baffling, as they are every year. Nocturnal Animals star Aaron Taylor-Johnson won Best Supporting Actor over Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali, the presumed future Oscar winner, and La La Land won an award for its screenplay over Kenneth Lonergan’s far superior Manchester by the Sea script, for example.
Really, it doesn’t matter who wins.
The Hollywood Foreign Press is a rather bogus organization more known for fraternizing with celebrities than their discerning taste. There’s no overlap with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, so it’s not even any kind of barometer for the Oscars. Viola Davis sort of shaded them as a farce in her Best Supporting Actress acceptance speech for Fences, feigning exasperation that it took so long to win: “I took all the pictures, went to the luncheon…”
There’s a sense of randomness to it all—Julia Louis-Dreyfus has five Emmys for Veep, but not one Golden Globe—that merits a scoffing that ranges from laughing at their kookiness to being angry that they’ve grown into such a spectacularly bloated and falsely important night in the industry.
But, echoing a point Meryl Streep made, the show has value.It is a televised opportunity to create stars and tell stories, and you want that opportunity to go to the people you like and the artists who deserve them.
You want Tracee Ellis Ross, the first black woman to win Best Actress in a Comedy since Debbie Allen in 1982, to be able to tell the room: “This is for all the women—women of color, and colorful people—whose stories, ideas, thoughts, are not always considered worthy and valid and important. I want you to know that I see you, we see you.”
You want her to have the platform to encourage the industry to show “the magic and the beauty and the sameness of the story and stories that are outside where the industry usually looks.”
You want Viola Davis to be able to talk about her father who, similar to Fences’ Troy, only had a fifth-grade education and worked doggedly to support himself at a time and place that made that nearly impossible: “But you know what? He had a story and it deserved to be told, and August Wilson told it.”
And you hope that they will be supported by a telecast that dares to have some class, which this year’s ceremony seemed to have none of.
You get a once-in-a-generation cultural moment like Streep’s speech—a stern and somber state of the union address, of sorts—for Hollywood and its responsibility, not to mention our own. And moments later, Jimmy Fallon jumps around the stage as hip-hop music blares performing a spoof of “Insane in the Brain” using Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne’s names instead.
Nobility followed up by antics.
Why, in a year that Hollywood fervently pushed itself to make strides in representation, opportunity, and dignity when it comes to non-white performers, creators, and stories, would you have Sofia Vergara come out on stage and do another tired bit about not being able to speak English properly, crack some jokes about anal sex, and then awkwardly introduce the next presenters: Sylvester Stallone’s children.
I’m still stuck on the image of Isabelle Huppert clutching her trophy for Best Actress, for her performance in the French film Elle, passionately acknowledging the artists in the room from all corners of the globe and vowing, “Don’t expect cinema to set up walls and borders”—only for the theme song to Rocky to loudly kick in seconds later leaving her startled and disoriented on stage.
Meaningfulness literally drowned out by bombast.
Or what about the optics of Sylvester Stallone, arguably Trump’s most famous (open) supporter, who partied with the president-elect at Mar-a-Lago on New Year’s Eve, presenting the Best Drama award to Moonlight, an aching work about black gay male identity and how the systems and norms our country has in place contribute to a struggle for acceptance?
Award shows should have silliness. They should have grand moments, like a sporadic-seeming Rocky tribute, and levity and bits. But they should also have a pulse and a narrative and a direction—and the wisdom, most of all, to read a room. Given the sheer number of tone-deaf moments, this award show failed in that regard.
It opened with an homage to La La Land that was stuffed with celebrity cameos, joy, and a palpable love for cinema. It was wonderful. It also included an elongated, dated homophobic gag about Jimmy Fallon dancing with Justin Timberlake. Get it? It’s funny because they’re guys, dancing together.
That a joke like that would read offensive, or at least lame, shouldn’t have escaped the show’s writers. It probably didn’t. They made it anyway. It echoes a general problem with the entire industry: an awareness of the need to do better, but a lethargy when it comes to actually doing it.
It’s why the night needed a talking to from Meryl Streep, the greatest of them all.
For Pete’s sake, it was a night that began with a Bush confusing movies starring black actors.
Yes, the “Jenna Bush doesn’t care about black movies” jokes abounded after the former first daughter and current NBC correspondent confused Hidden Figures and Fences, calling it Hidden Fences, suddenly making Ryan Seacrest and Giuliana Rancic seem like master artists with their Golden Globes red-carpet coverage.
Michael Keaton made the same gaffe. In a night where one of the most powerful phrases was “I see you,” that the slip-up happened twice reflected the sad truth: The opposite is true.
But Bush's mistake was, in truth, a fitting start for a ceremony that seemed to miss the point. The first major celebrity event following Trump’s election, it was an opportunity to be important, to address what’s going on in the world and not accept it, to declare that things are not going to be business as usual.
That’s why it’s so annoying that they tried to throw the same old party.
Sure, Fallon made his Donald Trump jokes in his opening monologue. They were pretty funny. But let’s not forget that the Tonight Show host refused the responsibility to hold the president-elect accountable for his actions and positions during his campaign, instead choosing to be complicit in anointing him a fun-and-friendly guy—harmless, even—with a noogie and some chummy banter.
Fallon is usually great at hosting these things. But as the night wore on and the tone became more impassioned, his frenetic antics seemed increasingly out of place.
And as La La Land continued to win every single award, so, too, did its intended message.
Best Actress winner Emma Stone gave a lovely tribute to “the dreamers,” the ones with stories to tell who have been told no, and encouraged them to keep trying to make their voices heard.
But as more and more La La victors gushed about the huge gamble the production company took in allowing the filmmakers to create this original musical, Twitter, at least began to roll its eyes.
“A white Harvard grad wanted to make a new musical about white people discovering jazz and it somehow got made! Insane,” joked comedian Nicole Silverberg. “Who said there couldn’t be a musical? Who do they speak of?” mocked writer Lindsey Weber.
It was likely not the easiest sell there’s ever been, but this is a movie about Los Angeles starring its two most famous white actors. On a night that was defined by tone-deafness and poor optics, maybe dial back the gushing about how hard it was to get that story made in front of the creatives behind Moonlight, Fences, Atlanta, Insecure, Hidden Figures, and black-ish—people of color trying to tell stories of color with no guarantee that there will be an audience or critics or an industry out there willing to receive it, let alone appreciate it.
In her speech, Meryl Streep quoted Tommy Lee Jones: “We have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy. We should all be very proud of the work Hollywood honors here tonight.”
We should be. Maybe soon we will be.