Golden Globes Analysis: Plenty of Wins and Controversy to Go Around

Chloe Zhao, Maria Bakalova and Rosamund Pike
Courtesy of NBC; Globes Countdown Live/Getty Images for DCP and HFPA; Christopher Polk/NBC

The Hollywood Reporter's awards columnist weighs in on Sunday's ceremony and what it means for the road ahead.

Heading in to Sunday night's 78th Golden Globe Awards, it was hard to know how much, if at all, your average TV viewer was aware of the controversy that has engulfed the Hollywood Foreign Press Association during the week since the Los Angeles Times revealed that the Globes-dispensing journalists organization has zero Black members.

But it was certainly top of mind for viewers from inside the industry, who were anxious to see how the HFPA would respond the controversy, and if its selection of winners would help or worsen its predicament.

On the former count, the HFPA left plenty of room for improvement. Waiting a few segments into the show before trotting out three HFPA members — two female, two non-white — to gravely but vaguely promise to do better didn't really move the needle. Don't take my word for it: when the show ended, The Hollywood Reporter has learned, the leadership at Time's Up sent letters to top executives at the HFPA and NBC conveying that their organization does "not think the announcement tonight by [the] HFPA is nearly enough, nor will it quell the broad dissatisfaction that has been so prominent this past week," and requesting follow-up meetings.

On the latter count, though, the Globe winners — which were chosen via voting that extended through Tuesday, a few days after the Times firestorm began, and therefore may have been influenced by it — were actually remarkably diverse, perhaps more so than ever.

After opting not to nominate any of this year's many acclaimed Black-centric films — among them Ma Rainey's Black BottomOne Night in MiamiJudas and the Black Messiah and The United States vs. Billie Holiday — for best picture, the HFPA chose to award four acting honors to Black performers, including three on the film side (accounting for half of its acting winners).

In a twist that virtually no one saw coming, Billie Holiday's Andra Day won best actress in a film drama over Nomadland's star Frances McDormandPromising Young Woman's Carey Mulligan, Ma Rainey's Viola Davis and Pieces of a Woman's Vanessa Kirby. Less surprisingly, Ma Rainey's Chadwick Boseman, who died last August, was named best actor in a film drama. And Judas' Daniel Kaluuya won best supporting actor in a film.

Additionally, Chloe Zhao, a female Chinese filmmaker, won best director, becoming only the second person of Asian descent (after Ang Lee) and second female (after Barbra Streisand) to take home the prize, and her film, Nomadland, won best picture (drama), making it the first female-directed winner of either of the Globes' two best picture categories.

Lastly, in awarding Minari best foreign-language film, voters were perhaps not only acknowledging a worthy film, but also the criticism they received about the fact that a film that is entirely American, save for its language, was, per longstanding HFPA bylaws, forced out of the best picture races and into the foreign-language film category. (They may, however, have gotten themselves into another bind with their handling of best animated film winner Soul — the film's co-director, Kemp Powers, who is Black, was only notified that he was one of the nominees for the film on Sunday, after previous co-directors of animated films were not considered nominees or winners, so it seems like they may have been trying to get ahead of some bad optics.)

It's always hard to gauge the relevance of the Globes to the Oscars (the awards ceremony that filmmakers hold in the highest esteem). Skeptics point to the fact that the HFPA is comprised of 87 journalists, while the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences includes nearly 10,000 people who actually work on films, and there is only one overlapping member, actress/journalist Lisa Lu.

But this year, it must be noted, Oscar nomination voting doesn't even begin until Friday (it's usually already in-progress when the Globes are handed out), and Academy members appear to be more impressionable than ever (having had few opportunities to gather in-person and form an early consensus), so the picks of the Globes — as witnessed on TV or read about afterwards — could really shape their viewing preferences and overall thinking in the homestretch.

For a film like Nomadland, which has long been regarded as the best picture Oscar frontrunner, the best picture (drama) win is a nice hold, essentially blocking other films that were thought to have a real chance — like The Trial of the Chicago 7, for which Aaron Sorkin won best screenplay, and Promising Young Woman, which was shut out — from gaining any momentum. (Those films, for their part, are not at all fatally wounded — indeed, four out of the last six best picture Oscar winners did not win a best picture Globe en route to the Dolby. Only Moonlight and Green Book did.)

Conversely, this was a tough missed opportunity for someone like Borat Subsequent Moviefilm's breakout Maria Bakalova, who may have faced a bit of headwind because she was competing as a lead actress at the Globes, whereas she is being pushed as a supporting actress elsewhere — but who also had some wind behind her back, in the sense that she was competing in a category specifically reserved for performers in musicals or comedies (meaning she didn't have to face some of the heavy-hitters that she will have to face elsewhere), and her film was obviously admired by the HFPA (it won best musical/comedy picture and actor for Sacha Baron Cohen).

Which brings us to the person who beat Bakalova in a shocker, Rosamund Pike for I Care a Lot — a film that was the top offering on Netflix over the weekend, but hasn't yet been seen by many Oscar voters — and the trio of people whose Globe wins could be game-changers by putting them on Oscar voters' radars. Also in this group: The Mauritanian's Jodie Foster (best supporting actress) and Day.

Next weekend will bring the Critics Choice Awards (Sunday, March 7), followed by the nominations of the Producers Guild (Monday, March 8), Directors Guild (Tuesday, March 9) and Academy (Monday, March 15). Thanks to the pandemic-extended calendar, the 93rd Oscars itself will not take place until April 25, so buckle up — there's still a long way to the finish line!

The Golden Globe Awards ceremony is produced by Dick Clark Productions, a division of MRC, which is a co-owner of The Hollywood Reporter through a joint venture with Penske Media titled P-MRC.