The Golden Globes, which kick off the televised frenzy that is awards season, are a notoriously kooky affair, at which celebrities get soused and are given prizes by the unpredictable Hollywood Foreign Press Association. This year, however, the Golden Globes had an additional, headier function: harbinger of the politics of award shows yet to come. We are just a few weeks away from the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Will Hollywood use awards season as an occasion to talk politics or as an occasion to retreat from politics, under the guise that we have never needed distracting, bipartisan entertainment more?
The Globes, in keeping with its zany M.O., managed to answer affirmatively to both: Yes, awards season will talk politics and, yes, awards season will hide out from politics by celebrating escapist entertainment. The musical La La Land was the night’s big winner, proving that Hollywood, or at the least the HFPA, retains its immense capacity to congratulate itself for making films about the glory and magic of Hollywood, just as it has done with recent award winners like The Artist, Argo, and Birdman. Simultaneously, the most memorable segment of the evening was Meryl Streep’s powerful speech excoriating Donald Trump. The Golden Globes is not a particularly reliable predictor of future Oscar winners, but it does seem to portend a fascinating awards season to come.
It seemed unlikely that the Globes would be political at all, given that they were being hosted by the apolitical Jimmy Fallon, who doesn’t do controversy, he just rubs Donald Trump’s head for laughs. But while Fallon opened the show with a song and dance number riffing on La La Land, he made three Trump jokes in his technically challenged opening monologue. He called the Golden Globes “one of the few places left where America still honors the popular vote,” cracked that “in 12 days” we are going to find out what it would be like if Game of Thrones’ King Joffrey lived, and joked that even Florence Foster Jenkins, the terrible opera singer recently played by Meryl Streep, wouldn’t agree to perform at the inauguration. Plus, he got in a dig that the Globes’ accounting firm was Ernst & Young & Putin.
But if Fallon, who all but disappeared after that monologue, set an unexpected tone, the Globes themselves seemed intent on retreating from it. The first award of the night, Best Supporting Actor in a Drama, somehow went to Aaron Taylor-Johnson for appearing in Tom Ford’s immaculate commercial Nocturnal Animals, instead of Moonlight’s heavily favored and deeply deserving Mahershala Ali. The next award went to Billy Bob Thornton for his work in Amazon’s Goliath. It seemed as though the Golden Globes were up to their own odd, white, dull thing and that it was going to be a very long night—only for those awards to be followed by invigorating victories for Atlanta and Tracee Ellis Ross.
In recent years, award show progressivism has largely been expressed in terms of diversity, whether that’s meant calling for more of it or pointing out, as in #oscarssowhite, where it is painfully lacking. While the Globes themselves had Sofia Vergara come out and do a cringey bit in which, because of her “hilarious” accent, she couldn’t say annual, only anal, Ellis Ross and Glover buoyed the show by talking about race. Tracee Ellis Ross dedicated her award to “all the women of color and colorful people, whose stories, ideas, thoughts are not always considered worthy. I want you to know I see you, we see you.” Glover, in his velvet chocolate suit, thanked both the city of Atlanta and the black people who live there, while shouting out Migos. It takes nothing away from either of these speeches to say that they could have been delivered in a world in which Hillary Clinton were about to become president.
The only actor before Streep to make explicit mention of Trump was Hugh Laurie, who joked that his victory might be at the “last ever Golden Globes,” seeing as “it has the words Hollywood Foreign Press in the title.” There were some notable moments—another great speech from Viola Davis, Diego Luna choosing to speak in Spanish while presenting—but before Streep’s speech, it looked as though the night would belong to La La Land and The Crown, a comforting period piece about the nobility of the hereditarily privileged. The most political moment of the night looked to be inadvertent, when Michael Keaton mistakenly referred to the movie Hidden Figures as Hidden Fences, conflating two films starring black people, as Jenna Bush had recently done on the red carpet.
Then came Streep. Meryl Streep is the most widely respected actress in Hollywood, and she is well into the glorious IDGAF stage of supreme professional accomplishment. She had an opportunity to speak her mind, and she took it, preparing a long, impassioned speech, delivered with a creaking voice, that seemed to hold the audience rapt. In it, she celebrated a Hollywood “crawling with foreigners,” analyzed Trump’s humiliation of a handicapped reporter and his general bullying, called for a protection of a free press and the celebration of empathy, and ended by quoting her friend Carrie Fisher: “Take your broken heart, make it into art.” While it is certainly true that the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association do not do the kind of journalism that we are, to put it in Streep’s words, “going to need to safeguard the truth,” one can take Streep’s point, while admiring her ability to do a little flattering as she seized an occasion.
Afterward, the show continued to move on its herky-jerky way. There were more awards for La La Land and one for Casey Affleck, despite the sexual harassment allegations that hang over him, which were balanced out by more exciting awards for Atlanta, Isabelle Huppert, and finally, Moonlight, which won Best Drama after being shut out all evening. But by this time, Streep’s speech had already recalibrated the night. While watching awards shows in real time, the winners seem like they matter, but with distance, the winners could hardly matter less. Great movies, great TV shows, great performance will stand out. We watch them whether they have been recognized by the Golden Globes or the Oscars, just as mediocre movies, TV shows, and performances fade away, no matter how much hardware they accrue. The only thing most people will remember about this Golden Globes is Streep’s speech, and, maybe, all the other ones it went on to inspire.