Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You was a critical favorite last year – but didn’t get any Golden Globe nominations. Natalie Seery / HBO hide caption
Natalie Seery / HBO
Natalie Seery / HBO
When it came time to pick the best TV shows of 2020 late last year, me and my colleagues at NPR were all over the map. But there was one thing we could all agree on: Michaela Coel’s HBO drama I May Destroy You. As a masterpiece, it was the only show that landed on it everyone’s best of list.
So it was a surprise to see the list of nominees for the Golden Globe Awards on television on Wednesday and nowhere to see their name or the show anywhere.
Coel, a UK-born black woman, created, wrote, directed and starred in this scorching series about a writer who slowly realizes she was drugged and raped during an evening out with friends. It was based on a terrible experience in her own life – just the kind of personal and artistic courage that awards like the globes are designed to reward.
But they didn’t even give her a chance.
Beyond its own accomplishments, Coel’s work was the best example of how the high quality TV room saw much-needed ethnic diversity over the past year, especially among female performers. Jurnee Smollett, Aunjanue Ellis, and Wunmi Mosaku on HBO’s Lovecraft Country. Adjoa Andoh, who played the smart, sharp-tongued Lady Danbury in Netflix’s hit drama Bridgerton. Emmy winner Zendaya on the Christmas episode of HBO’s Euphoria. Uzo Aduba as Shirley Chisholm in the FX miniseries Mrs. America.
None nominated by the globes.
And there was the work of non-white men. Michael K. Williams on Lovecraft. Colman Domingo on euphoria. Lamorne Morris via Hulus Woke. Sterling K. Brown, who was nominated for two different roles in two different Emmy categories last year, including NBC’s This Is Us. Joshua Caleb Johnson from Showtime’s The Good Lord Bird. Nicco Annan as the non-binary strip club owner Uncle Clifford in the P-Valley of Starz. Chris Rock as crime boss Loy Cannon and Glynn Turman as his deputy in the fourth season of FX’s Fargo.
All high quality work. Everything braked by the globes.
In the past, when people with color fell short of high profile industry nominations and awards, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite feels like it was a century ago, doesn’t it? – The argument was that the performances weren’t there. But this year, months after a summer when the public reckoned on civil liberties and police brutality, two television shows were canceled – Cops and Live PD – that excuse no longer applies.
Two TV projects with predominantly black actors were nominated in this year’s Golden Globes: Lovecraft Country as best drama and Small Ax from Amazon Prime Video as best limited series. Black male actors from these projects, Jonathan Majors from Lovecraft and John Boyega from Small Ax, were also nominated, along with Don Cheadle from Showtime’s Black Monday and Ramy Youssef from Hulus Ramy. That leaves 16 more nominations for male actors, all of which went to whites.
Not a single black woman was nominated in the Globes’ 20 nomination slots for female actors. (Anya Taylor-Joy, who is of Argentine descent and identifies herself as a Latina, was nominated for a white character on Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit.)
It’s easy to blame the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the group that selects nominees and winners for Golden Globes. Over the years they have developed a well-deserved reputation for eccentric decisions that focus on celebrities, Europeans, and those who pollute them. And unlike the Oscars, they also give awards on television, where their tastes are even less predictable.
When these many great performances by people of color show up on critically acclaimed television projects, something is wrong when so few non-white people are recognized.
But the Globes made some amazing choices on their film nominations this year. For the first time, three women were nominated for Best Director, including Regina King. Non-white actors like Viola Davis, Andra Day, Riz Ahmed, Chadwick Boseman, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Daniel Kaluuya all earned well-deserved nods (like Anya Taylor-Joy for the film Emma this time).
So this diversity problem clearly seems confined to the TV side of the Globes. The past year has undoubtedly been a challenge for the TV industry, which has been plagued by pandemic lockdowns, changed release schedules, a lack of new material, and much more. And as someone who’s helped judge honors that range from the George Foster Peabody Awards to the Critic’s Choice Awards, I know that someday someone will always be verbally abused.
But I also know that when so many great performances by colored people are showing up on critically acclaimed television projects, something is seriously wrong in recognizing so few non-white people.
Let’s hope it doesn’t need another hashtag – maybe #GlobesTVSoWhite? – Get the HFPA to recognize quality work on television regardless of who delivers it.