Credit: Netflix

The Golden Globes’ diversity problem

By Gabriel Wheway

Michaela Coel’s landmark show I May Destroy You was outrageously snubbed by The Golden Globes while Emily in Paris received a bizarre nomination. 

The nominations for the Golden Globes have been announced, recognising a brilliant wave of British talent for a variety of performances in film and television over the last year. Emma Corrin, Daniel Kaluuya, Olivia Colman, Sir Anthony Hopkins, and even (peculiarly) James Corden received nods, yet there was a certain bewildering omission from the list of nominees. This, of course, is I May Destroy You

In this show, the brilliant Michaela Coel delves into an astonishingly beautiful and thrilling series tackling the trauma of sexual assault and the taboo surrounding it. She intricately balances the haze of flashbacks with emotional distress and questions of memory in an empowering portrayal of survival, race, and millennial life. Coel’s character grapples with revenge plots, fantasies, and self-destructive behaviour, engaging the audience’s emotions with subversive writing and a truly arresting performance. 

A series of video interviews held with the Guardian give insight into how the BBC/HBO drama became a symbol of empowerment for sexual assault survivors across the world. With complete autonomy over her project, Coel interrogates issues surrounding stealthing and intimate partner sexual violence, two delicate subjects that Hollywood tends to avoid with drastic caution. From an industry rife with powerful men who have been frequently called out for sexual assault, emotional, and physical abuse, it seems unsurprising that a show that openly addresses such a prevalent issue gets overlooked. It’s lost on me how so many figures have gained undeserved sympathy from such a disturbed section of society that manages to get away with a “blurred” nature of consent. 

Despite having received rave reviews and huge critical acclaim worldwide, I May Destroy You was completely snubbed by the Golden Globes. There was not one bit of recognition from the Best Miniseries category and none of the main cast members – Michaela Coel, who also created and wrote the show, Weruche Opia, and Paapa Essiedu – were nominated for their performances either. From the moment the nominations were announced, fans stormed to Twitter questioning the show’s alarming absence from all the categories it was eligible for. The world had been gushing about, citing, or being influenced by Coel’s masterpiece over the last six months. So, this begs the question, how on earth did this happen, and importantly what sort of mindlessness caused Emily in Paris to gain critical acclaim over this unique piece of art? 

Michaela Coel transformed perceptions and empowered the very nature of the subject she tackles so vigorously. What has Emily in Paris done, other than glorify a White American representing luxury Whiteness in a pre-pandemic Paris scrubbed completely of its vibrant African and Muslim communities? I May Destroy You is a majestic piece of work and Coel embodies her genius throughout. Its exemption from the Globes list is completely unjust and everyone is rightfully outraged. I urge anyone to watch Coel’s undoubtable genius unfold in this more than award-worthy masterpiece. 

Deborah Copaken, a writer for Emily in Paris, admitted in an interview with the Guardian that I May Destroy You is “a work of sheer genius” and that she believed it “deserves to win all the awards”. Copaken defends the show’s brilliance compared to her own creation Emily in Paris. She expressed her profound shock that the committee snubbed such a culturally impactful piece of work. Further, she addresses the alarming race issue that transcends the arts industry and awards shows to this day. It is more and more apparent that this racially charged negligence reflects significant trends of disparity from writing rooms to police brutality. Countless voices share this disbelief and hold this outcry close to heart. 

Award shows have suffered a significant loss of credibility as of late, with #OscarsSoWhite and well-documented snubbing trends running rampant through the season. This year’s Golden Globe nominations were no different. Unsurprisingly, nominees for every category are majority White or the work of White creators. You would assume there was hope after the #OscarsSoWhite and #BlackLivesMatter movements that Hollywood would at least attempt to reflect the continually growing frustration with racial inequality. Of course, I May Destroy You masterfully interrogates these issues. This snub represents the invalidation of any progress Hollywood has attempted to make over the last year and it is increasingly concerning to witness. If one looks at every writer’s room in Hollywood the diversity is nil. A 2017 report by Color of Change found that 91% of showrunners are White and 80% are male. 

The constant snubbing of Black artists by awards bodies is alarming. People need to start disregarding these (White) hierarchical systems of status and acclaim; to put it simply, the right people are not receiving the recognition they deserve. Five White actresses and no Michaela Coel in the limited series performance category? The industry remains, as it always has been, completely unsurprising. Systemic racism is intertwined within the media and has disturbing roots in the arts, where skin colour cannot define the calibre of art whether it be film, television, writing or music. Awards simply ought to go to shows and actors that deserve them, not because they are expected to achieve them.

People will wrongfully insist that any praise for the success of I May Destroy You is the result of the current febrile atmosphere following 2020’s mass protests against individual and systemic racism across the world. Those who maintain this are plainly racist and wrong. However, surely watching the best drama to come out of 2020 is very little to ask. The supposedly distinguished voters of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) did, however, manage to conjure up some time to chew through the ridiculously dull Emily in Paris which received two major nominations: one for Best Comedy, despite making nobody laugh; and the other for Lily Collins’ portrayal of a charmless Instagrammer. Perhaps the HFPA are too concerned with their weathered string of embarrassing scandals and the constant scorching criticism of their review and membership. Maybe they should pull themselves together and watch the shows before throwing out random nominations which frankly no one agrees with. Embarrassing. Yet amongst this chaos, there was a small silver lining to this selection of nominees. Steve McQueen’s Small Axe saw a nomination for John Boyega; as did Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom for Viola Davis and the late, great Chadwick Boseman. Finally, the magnificent Dev Patel has been nominated for his performance in The Personal History of David Copperfield, and looks likely to receive his first win. Do have a look at the nominations, but take them with a pinch of salt. Who on earth are these voters and critics at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association anyway and why are they so inept? Food for thought as we kick off awards season with a sour taste in our mouth.


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