I’m usually a sucker for awards shows—I always have been, even as a baby gay, when the gowns, the glamor, and the institutionalized complacency of it all made me believe that I, too, could one day be up there, on one of those vaunted stages, thanking a list of people and warning someone somewhere to go to bed ‘cause, darnit, I’m “relatable”! Moreover, I loved celebrating “the best” of the year in film, music, theater, and television; the gods of media that dictated what I valued and who I would become.
But I skipped out on watching the Golden Globes this year because it felt different, for a number of reasons. Certainly not for a lack of quality; 2017 was, objectively, a garbage year, but the arts, as they have done and will always do, elevated our culture. Television has never been better and there was much to celebrate in cinema, with a number of quietly prolific films stretched out over these preceding months: Get Out, Wonder Woman, Girls Trip, Lady Bird, Coco, The Shape of Water, The Disaster Artist, and Call Me By Your Name, to name a few. These films deserved celebration, but the celebration somehow felt wrong.
Not only because the Globes missed several opportunities in its initial announcement of this year’s nominees. Which it did, particularly in the directing category, where Jordan Peele, Greta Gerwig, Dee Rees, and Patty Jenkins were overlooked for more establishment (read: white, male) directors Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott, neither of whom delivered their best work, nor the best films of the year. But the real problem is bigger than the Golden Globes.
The annual awards show, in its 75th incarnation, was tainted by a scandal as old as Hollywood itself, older even. Over the past few months as icons fell from their perches of misbegotten power, questions of complicitness (What did he or she know? Why didn’t they help?) seemed to rattle discordantly in the background. Statements were made, rehab facilities were sought, histories were uncovered, a movement was started...yet with the Globes going on like business as usual, in spite of protests rendered in couture, the entire night rang hollow.
Maybe a more effective protest would have been simply not to go at all. Or just cancel the whole shebang. But that would’ve gone against Hollywood’s oldest and most cliché adage: The show must go on. Luckily, this show included Oprah Winfrey giving the closest thing we’ve had to a presidential speech in over a year. Though I had opted out of the broadcast, I couldn’t help hearing about Oprah’s speech. And when I belatedly watched it this morning I felt nothing but chills.
Mother Winfrey snatched the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award and began her acceptance speech by invoking Sidney Poitier’s historic win at the Academy Awards in 1964, becoming the first black man to win Best Actor, and how that moment inspired her. And then she invoked her own historic win, the first black woman honored with the DeMille prize at the Globes, and its potential to inspire some young black girl watching “from the cheap seats,” that one day she, too, might grace that vaunted stage.
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This, it felt like, was what these shows are for; not the gowns, the glamor, nor the institutionalized complacency; not the charity ribbons and canned protest speeches, but to remind us of the power of art to change minds and lives. Admittedly, there was something riveting about seeing that sea of black rise in ovation after Oprah’s speech, the solidarity of everyone in that room at the Beverly Hilton made clear.
It’s naive and silly to expect an awards show to solve, or to avoid, the problems of the real world, but when the real world’s problems are so pervasive, the need for things like award shows seem almost as questionable as, say, snubbing Girls Trip standout Tiffany Haddish. But art and the artists must be celebrated, if only to inspire more great art and to inspire more people to become great artists. So if the show must go on, at least it’s got something to say.