BIPOC Excellence Passed Over For White Mediocrity: Golden Globes 2021 – Op Ed

When the Golden Globe Nominees were announced this month, many took to the internet to express their outrage at the disappointing ‘snubs’ and the outrageous nominations. A common theme that most found in the nominations was that many excellent BIPOC-led movies and TV shows were ignored or not given enough attention, while mediocre white-led ones were nominated instead. Among the 40 acting nominees for TV, only two Black actors were nominated, while only two Black women were nominated across all TV and film categories. Perhaps the most shocking of the nominations was the fact that ‘I May Destroy You’, a Black-led TV show that blew up last year and explored sexual assault in a helpful and deep way, was completely ignored by the Golden Globes, while ‘Emily in Paris’, an overdone chick flick, was nominated for two awards. This is, of course, not a new phenomenon – just a few years ago, the Oscars were criticized for not having sufficiently diverse nominations, with the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite trending. But why is it so common for excellent works of art by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) to be ignored, while mediocre projects by white artists are excessively celebrated?

Watch Golden Globes Nominations: Live Stream Announcement - Variety

 A common answer to this question used to be that awards reflect the majority’s preferences, and because the white majority cannot relate to stories centering around BIPOC, they do not do as well in the box office or award nominations. However, BIPOC directors have dispelled this myth by creating movies and TV shows featuring the stories and cultures of BIPOC, which have gone on to do extremely well in ticket sales and streams. For example, Bridgerton, featuring an incredibly diverse cast and a Black co-lead, became the biggest Netflix show of all time. However, it received zero Golden Globe nominations. It seems that diversity in stories actually increases relatability and ticket sales than the other way around. Therefore, there is clearly a disconnect between popularity and awards nominations.

Perhaps this disconnect could be explained by looking at who is in charge of the Golden Globe nominations. Unfortunately, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), the body responsible for the Golden Globe awards, is a secretive body of around 90 people whose membership list is not published anywhere. While this means that nothing can be conclusively said about the potential systemic racism in the HFPA, there is a possibility that this secrecy is a tactic to escape accountability regarding its members’ diversity. If its members are mostly white, it is possible that they subconsciously (or consciously) pick movies and shows that they relate to the most. Sociologists have termed this as the ‘Racial Empathy Gap’ – where people empathize less with performances by artists of another race. This idea of relatability may be why ‘Minari’, a critically acclaimed film about a Korean American family, was sidelined into the foreign language film category despite being an American story created by an American. While this decision is said to have been made purely because more than 50% of Minari’s dialogue is in Korean, it may be a signal of a greater problem, where any story that is not about or relatable to white Americans is automatically dismissed as “foreign” and undeserving of equal praise.

However, even this, the idea that the inability of the white majority to relate, keeps BIPOC projects from receiving the awards they deserve, seems too simplistic an explanation.. There needs to be a deeper analysis that reflects society’s differing criteria when judging work by white and BIPOC people, respectively.

One possible explanation draws from the idea that society is built around applauding white mediocrity while dismissing BIPOC excellence. ljeoma Oluo wrote that society is built on the “idea that white men deserve political power and wealth and safety and security just because they’re white men.” While her analysis focused on white male mediocrity, which white women are undoubtedly victim to, the same logic can be applied to how white mediocrity as a whole is applauded. A symptom of such a society is that white people are automatically perceived as more talented and intelligent than BIPOC, regardless of their actual skill or achievements. This may explain why films and TV shows made by and centering white people, such as ‘Emily in Paris’, are automatically seen as more worthy of praise and recognition since they feature people who ‘must’ be more talented. Oluo even goes so far as to say that people (like the members of the HFPA) are ‘brainwashed’ into upholding the system that applauds white mediocrity.

Ijeoma Oluo continues talking about race outside the United States - NOW  Magazine

However, this system goes beyond praising mediocre works by white people to forgiving serious errors and offenses in their films and movies. This pattern is seen in this year’s surprising Golden Globe nominations. In addition to being an insubstantial ‘hate-watch’, Emily in Paris was filled with damaging stereotypes. It portrayed Parisians as mean, exotically sensual and unprofessional. Emily’s Chinese friend, Mindy Chen’s backstory perpetuated the stereotype that all Chinese people come from big money, and by portraying Chinese culture in juxtaposition to Western culture, depicted it as restrictive and dull. Finally, its poor discussion of the dangers of female objectification portrayed feminism as shallow, performative, and ultimately dismissible. Despite these harmful stereotypes being criticized by many, the show went on to earn two nominations at the Golden Globes. Similarly, James Corden was nominated for his performance on “The Prom,” even though he, a straight man, played a caricature of a gay man, which critics denounced as “homophobic” and “aggressively flamboyant.” Perhaps the most surprising and harmful was Sia’s movie, ‘Music’, receiving two nominations. It has repeatedly been denounced for being ableist and damaging. Sia chose to cast a neurotypical actress to play an autistic character, filled it with stereotypes on autistic people, and included restraint scenes that advocate a harmful way of interacting with autistic people. Despite mass criticism on the above performances and their very real and detrimental consequences, it seems that they have been forgiven or ignored by those who nominated them for the Golden Globes. This implies that protecting white people’s image and achievements is more important to society than rectifying damaging stereotypes and their effects on marginalized communities and de-platforming those that perpetuate such stereotypes.

While all of this might explain why mediocre and damaging projects by white people are celebrated, it does not fully answer why brilliant works of art by BIPOC are dismissed. While it is true that in current society BIPOC have to go above and beyond to prove themselves and their art, it is clear that many of the projects that were ignored have ‘proved’ themselves beyond a doubt as being excellent and ground-breaking. Why then are they still ignored?

One speculative analysis is that society has very specific criteria on what counts as art when it comes to projects that center BIPOC. When sorting through BIPOC movies and shows that are awarded and those that are not, there seems to be a pattern (granted, with anomalies). It appears that BIPOC stories that are counted as art and deemed worthy of praise are those that satisfy the white gaze. In the case of the Golden Globes, it seems to restrict BIPOC stories to those that exclusively discuss racial issues but leave white people comfortable, usually by incorporating elements of white saviourism. Examples of these include movies like The Help, Green Book, The Blind Side and Django Unchained– all of which discussed race but with major white saviour characters, and went on to be nominated for several Golden Globe awards. Most of these movies are written by white people and end with the misleading idea that racism can be easily ‘fixed’, leaving white viewers feeling comforted. This helps create a society where white people severely underestimate the pain and damage of racism and how deeply ingrained it is in society and themselves. Meanwhile, brilliant films and shows that generally fall into the following two categories are ignored. First, movies and shows about the  experiences and struggles which BIPOC share with white people, such as Bridgerton, Never Have I Ever, I May Destroy You, and Insecure, are sidelined (all of these shows were wholly ignored by the Golden Globes this year). This reflects a pattern in mainstream media, where celebrated stories centering BIPOC are exclusively about their oppression and racial struggles as if they are not capable of beautiful, nuanced, and messily normal lives. Secondly, stories about race that leave white people extremely uncomfortable by discussing everyday white people’s role in perpetuating racism, such as When They See Us (no nominations this year) or Get Out (an eye-opening exploration of racial microaggressions that had zero wins at the Golden Globes) are ignored. This policing of what stories BIPOC are allowed to explore is both a symptom and cause of white supremacist culture – it both results from the idea that only stories that satisfy the white gaze should be celebrated, and further restricts the growth of society by disallowing people from learning from and empathizing with BIPOC stories.

Ultimately, the solution to the problem of BIPOC projects going unawarded is not straightforward or easy since the problem results from our white supremacist culture, which cannot be so quickly resolved. Perhaps while we work towards dismantling our racist society, we can, in the short run, focus on supporting awards organizations that prioritize BIPOC creators, such as the BET awards, hold organizations like the HFPA accountable for their implicit racism, and support movies and shows centering BIPOC so that it is clear that society’s discriminatory way of judging art must and will change.


Sources:

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2021-02-03/golden-globe-nominations-2021-black-stories

https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/film-tv/a35407115/golden-globes-2021-snubs/

https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2020/12/16/ijeoma-oluo-mediocre-book

https://www.vox.com/22264100/golden-globes-nominations-2021-snubs-surprises

https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-55931544#:~:text=Her%20directorial%20debut%20Music%20attracted,added%20to%20the%20film’s%20start.


Elisabeth Mahilini Hoole

Elisabeth is from Sri Lanka and is currently studying economics at Amsterdam. She hopes to use economics to work on and inform policies that economically empower marginalized communities. In the meantime, she writes for other websites (including ourchurchtoo) and educates herself on social movements. In her free time, she loves playing with her dog and cat, listening to other people talk about their animals, trying to convert her family to vegetarianism, playing board games very competitively, reading murder-mysteries, and discussing social issues with family and friends.

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