Despite numerous nominations for people of color, winners at the 2014 Golden Globes were predominantly white.
If you managed to abstain from social media and television last night, you missed the strange awards sideshow that was the Golden Globes. There were some great moments on stage—Emma Thompson was the coolest person in the room as she presented an award barefoot, holding her high heels in one hand and a martini in the other and hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler had some genuinely funny jokes—but I came away from the night thinking more about who wasn’t on stage: many people of color.
The voting body of the Golden Globes is comprised of just 90 journalists from around the world that make up the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and well, their choices are sometimes at odds with American critical and popular consensus. I refuse to let anyone forget The Tourist-gate controversy of 2011.
But just like many other big-name award shows and the industries they honor, the Globes are plagued by an astonishing lack of racial diversity. For every step forward toward inclusion, there seems to be a step back to uphold status quo. This year, a remarkable list of nominees promised a different outcome. 12 Years a Slave was tied with American Hustle for nominations in seven categories. The list of best actor nominees was refreshingly diverse: up for awards were Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Barkhad Abdi, Sofia Vergara, Don Cheadle, and Kerry Washington, plus Chiwetel Ejiofor and Idris Elba were both nominated twice. By the end of the night, though, every actor who took home an award was white. American Hustle took home three awards while 12 Years a Slave took only one—though it was the most high-profile award of the night, the Best Motion Picture Drama prize. Gravity director Alfonso Cuarón became the first Latino to win the Best Director award.
It’s up for endless debate, of course, whether award-winner Matthew McConaughey did better in his Dallas Buyers Club role than Chiwetel Ejiofor did in 12 Years a Slave. All the actors who were nominated did amazing work this year. But I can’t help but think about the recent SNL kerfuffle over their lack of black female performers. For six years, the show justified their lack of diversity citing a dearth of talent: there just weren’t any black women funny enough to be on the show. In response to recent criticism, the show sought out black female performers for a special set of mid-season auditions. In a matter of weeks, lo and behold, not only do we have a hilarious black female cast member, we have two new black female writers. Talent is subjective. Our perceptions of who is funny and who is profound are shaped by how those people look in addition to how they actually perform.
We should question how a newcomer comedy like Brooklyn Nine-Nine took home Best TV Comedy, even as it hasn’t finished its first season, but the shows like The Mindy Project, Orange is the New Black, or Scandal failed to make it into the top five shows of their category.
Those perceptions of who is talented were running through my mind as Jared Leto took the stage to accept the award for best supporting actor for his portrayal of transgender woman Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club. As he gave an awkward acceptance speech about waxing his body, I thought about how the conversation would change about his bravery to portray a trans character. If a trans person had played the role instead, would they still be considered a “brave” actor?
We’re far from equality on screens big and small, but the talent is out there. We’re waiting on the industry establishment to notice actors, directors, writers, and producers come in all shapes, sizes, genders, sexualities, and color. Still waiting.