Andra Day, Chadwick Boseman, John Boyega, and Daniel Kaluuya Won Golden Globes, but It’s Not All Good. Here’s Why.

White people solo-judging television and film is so normative for them that it didn’t even seem wrong until recently

John Boyega accepts the Best Supporting Actor-Television award for “Small Axe” via video from Angela Bassett at the 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards on February 28, 2021. Photo: Christopher Polk/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

It’s easy to get swept up in the big emotions of it all. Daniel Kaluuya’s Golden Globe win for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture–Drama for playing Black Panther Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah helped kick off the show. Fellow Brit John Boyega followed him with his win for Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Miniseries, or Television Film for director Steve McQueen’s ambitious Small Axe series Amazon’s Prime Video. Then there was Chadwick Boseman’s posthumous win as Best Actor in a Motion Picture–Drama for his role as Levee in the Denzel Washington-produced Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom for Netflix with a heartbreaking speech from his widow, Taylor Simone Ledward. And, finally, there was Andra Day’s win for Best Actress in a Motion Picture–Drama as the great Billie Holiday in the Lee Daniels-directed The United States vs. Billie Holiday.

This year, the heat was turned up on the Golden Globes, the annual event of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) that has long kicked off awards season. The Globes date all the way back to 1944. And certainly staging it this year during the pandemic was a huge feat. Reflection is one of the many byproducts of the pandemic, and it has been used to shine a glaring light on the HFPA.

Eyebrows were already raised when such actors as Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett of Lovecraft County, along with such shows as Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You, which aired in the United States and the United Kingdom, failed to receive nominations. The crime, it was later discovered, was even more egregious with the discovery that the HFPA had not had at least one Black member out of its nearly 90 members in 20 years. At the top of the show, hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler shamed the organization. “There are no Black members of the Hollywood Foreign Press,” Fey said, appearing from New York. “I realize, HFPA, maybe you guys didn’t get the memo because your workplace is the back booth of a French McDonald’s, but you got to change that. So here’s to changing it.”

In the broadcast itself, HFPA President Ali Sar, Vice President Helen Hoehne, and former President Meher Tatna addressed the issue. Hoehne, who is the U.S. correspondent for TV Movie, Germany’s largest biweekly TV and movie magazine, said, “Just like in film and television, Black representation is vital. We must have Black journalists in our organization.”

The problem, of course, is that the HFPA didn’t even realize it had a problem until #TimesUpGlobes started trending, with celebs like Ava DuVernay, Sterling K. Brown, Kerry Washington, JJ Abrams, Alyssa Milano, and Sean Hayes lending their voices to the outrage. The Friday afternoon before the awards broadcast, #TimesUp posted an image of a cracked Golden Globe statue with the message, “Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Not a single Black member out of 87.”

How does an organization get this way? Surely there is an entire African continent of Black journalists who love film and TV. Last we checked, there were Black journalists in Europe, too. Perhaps the question isn’t how can this happen, but rather why does it keep happening? Clearly the HFPA has been unbothered by the absence of any Black member for two decades. We, the general public, are just now finding out, and this is not cool with us. But the HFPA obviously didn’t even notice.

White people judging what’s good and bad in television and film is so normative for them that it didn’t even seem wrong. If there is any grand takeaway from this past year of racial reckoning amid the pandemic, it has to be that White people in power won’t do right unless someone makes them. Doubt that? Just look to the HFPA. A year ago, they didn’t see a problem with not having at least one Black journalist in its ranks. Ten years ago they didn’t see a problem. And 20 years ago they didn’t see a problem.

Awards are cool, but equality is essential. But it’s not a matter of simply adding Black members like water to plants, it requires a thorough reassessment. At the heart of it all is this belief that film and TV, or storytelling at large, is the province of White only. Until they fix that, another 20 years can go by and the HFPA will be exactly where it is today. No mountain of gold statues can keep the sun from shining light on that ugly truth.

ATL-based Ronda Racha Penrice is a writer/cultural critic specializing in film/TV, lifestyle, and more. She is the author of Black American History For Dummies.

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