Editor’s Note: Gene Seymour is a critic who has written about music, movies and culture for The New York Times, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @GeneSeymour. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinion at CNN.
At times like this, I miss Don Rickles.
Flashy, corny exercises in self-aggrandizement like Sunday night’s Golden Globes awards were made for the late, great insult comic to deflate, if not blow to smithereens. How I yearned for Rickles to throw a barrage of ego-piercing barbs at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s annual clambake.
I was especially ready for Rickles to deploy one of his regular riffs, which I imagined would go like this:
“I kid, folks, but you know what? We need the Golden Globes.”
At which point, he would shrug and look around for anybody who agreed.
And keep looking,
“I kid, folks…only I’m not sure I am.”
We’ve been through various stages of lockdown and social distancing for a full year as of this month. Whether we’re in the home stretch of this pandemic or not, we’re going to spend a lot of recovery time sorting through all the things we went without all these months – and figuring out which of these we’re glad to have back and which we’re OK with doing without moving forward.
The Golden Globes? I’ve been wondering for at least half my life how necessary they are to movies and television, given the many critics’ awards that have more provocatively set an advance agenda for the Oscars. The question is additionally complicated by the fact that this year, as co-hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler noted in their opening monologue, nobody is altogether sure what the difference is between a movie made for television and a movie shown on television but was meant to be shown in theaters that are mostly closed to the public because of the pandemic.
The distinction still wasn’t clear after three hours and change of an unavoidably patchwork live television show that tried its best to work around the Covid-19 protocols and still make everything seem as glitzy and funny and campy as preceding Globes ceremonies. One suspects the distinctions will continue to be unclear by the time the Academy Awards take place on April 25, however things will be for the rest of the world by then.
The Globes are always a little weird and awkward to watch, given their history of – putting it diplomatically – loopy spontaneity from presenters and recipients. They felt more so this year, given that the nominees were all at home with loved ones or, in Bill Murray’s case, in a sunny backyard (he rocked that Hawaiian shirt, by the way, but still didn’t win for best supporting actor in “On the Rocks”). As welcome as the virtual audience was made to feel in their homes, especially since so many of them got dressed up for the occasion, it at times felt as though we were intruding spectators. But still, not as intrusive as the music trying to “play” people off their overlong acceptance speeches as if they were onstage as usual. I mean … they’re at home, OK? Tell the affiliates to cut some slack.
Despite the strained circumstances, the co-hosts did fine, game work as they were in ballrooms at opposite ends of the continent – Fey in New York, Poehler in Hollywood – addressing an audience comprised of first responders and essential workers who, by the way, did their part to replicate past Globes telecasts by getting noticeably rowdier as the evening went on.
The Fey-Poehler tandem also showed this wasn’t their first Globe rodeo by taunting the HFPA as a bunch of random nobodies and making sidelong references to a Los Angeles Times report that its 87-member roster does not include a single Black member. (A group of HFPA members, including its president Helen Hoehne of Germany and former president Meher Tatna of India appeared onstage to say, essentially, that they will do better. “We must ensure,” Tatna said, “that everybody gets a seat at our table.”)
Jane Fonda, winner of the HFPA’s Cecil B. DeMille Award, did a far better job of articulating this imperative, not just with the Globes, but the rest of show business.
“There’s a story we’ve been really afraid to see and hear about ourselves and this industry. The story about which voices we respect and elevate and which we tune out.” She urged “this industry” to “expand that tent so that everyone rises, and everyone’s story has a chance to be seen and heard.”
Most of the first wave of awards seemed to reflect this attitude as Black British actors Daniel Kaluuya and John Boyega collected supporting actor Globes in movies (Kaluuya for “Judas and the Black Messiah”) and television (Boyega for “Small Axe”). African American screenwriter Kemp Powers shared best animated feature honors with director Pete Docter for “Soul.”
The historic presence of three women nominated for best motion picture director was acknowledged and applauded. One of those three, Chinese-born Chloé Zhao won for “Nomadland,” which was also the winner for best motion picture drama. Notably, she is the first woman director to win a Globe in almost 40 years – and only the second ever.
In what was by far the most moving moment of the telecast, Chadwick Boseman, who died last August at 43 years old, after a private four-year battle with colon cancer, received a posthumous best actor in a motion picture drama award for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” His wife Simone Ledward Boseman accepted the award summoning, through tears, what he might have said at this occasion: “He would say something beautiful, something inspiring, something that would amplify the little voice that tells you [that] you can, that tells you to keep going, that calls you back to what you were meant to be doing at this moment in history.”
So do we need the Globes? Maybe for giving room for such incandescent moments to happen, especially given the aforementioned singularities of this particular year.
But if Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods” is frozen out of the Oscars as it was for the Globes, I just may go Don Rickles on them, too.