This Could’ve Been An Email: A Recap of the 78th Golden Globes

Let's break down what made for one of the most (deliciously) cringe-worthy award shows in recent memory.

Anyone who uses Zoom on the regular knows all of the potential pitfalls that can crop up: Bad reception; people in extreme, unflattering closeup; someone inappropriately dressed; someone not realizing they’re muted (or, worse still, someone not realizing they’re NOT muted).

Literally every possible Zoom screw-up happened on last night’s Golden Globes show, only it was broadcast to millions of people. (Really puts things in perspective!) Throw in the controversy over the Hollywood Foreign Press Assocation (HFPA) and its all-white voting body—which was addressed in ways both sanctioned and snarky throughout the night—and it made for one of the most (deliciously) cringe-worthy award shows in recent memory.

Let’s break it down, shall we?

We’re Experiencing Technical Difficulties
When Laura Dern announced that Daniel Kaluuya had won the first award of the night—Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture, for his role in Judas and the Black Messiah—it was an absolute thrill for fans of the brilliant actor. That is, until Kaluuya tried to speak. We saw his lips moving but no words were coming out of his mouth. (Ahhhhh!) After a few seconds of this unintentional mime act, the camera panned back to a somewhat mystified Laura Dern, who started to wrap things up, apologizing for technical difficulties. Then a booming voice with a thick British accent could be heard: “You done me dirty! You done me dirty!” It was Kaluuya, whose vocals had been fixed. The producers panned away from Dern and back to Kaluuya, who amiably began his speech.

Then, the show did something unexpected: As Kaluuya was speaking, they panned to the other nominees—Bill Murray, Jared Leto, Leslie Odom Jr., and Sacha Baron Cohen. Not just in a grid of four, but actual closeups, where each nominee’s face took over the whole screen. What was clear was the that these men didn’t realize they were going to be providing full-screen reaction shots. While no one seemed deeply upset by their loss—we didn’t see anyone cursing under their breath or drinking booze straight from the bottle—many sported the blank look of someone who has no idea they’re on camera. Only Bill Murray spent the entire segment sporting his trademark amused grin.

You’re On! No, Really, You’re On!
The unsuspecting Best Supporting Actor nominees were the first of a pattern—celebrities Zooming in from home with no idea they were on camera. Somehow, when the event takes place in a reception hall, everyone understands that they must be camera-ready at all times. That’s part of being in public. But at home, hunkered on a couch by yourself or with friends of family, you relax, you zone out, your face goes slack. In Al Pacino’s case, you nod off. In Josh O’Connor’s case, you scratch your bum, and then start laughing in sheepish mortification.

To add to this weirdness, the producers insisted on this ongoing pre-commercial bit where they showed all the actors/celebs who would be featured in the next segment. Again, it wasn’t clear the celebs knew they were on camera. At times, we could hear their conversations, but in a muffled, chaotic, everyone-talking-at-once sort of way. Sometimes, they realized they were on and started talking, only to have the show abruptly cut them off and go to a commercial. It was messy!

Dress to Impress (Or Not)
When it comes to a live award show, everyone gets the same memo: Dress to impress. But what about when the show is broadcast over Zoom? Some celebrities dressed to the nines (we SEE you, Dan Levy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Julia Garner, and Elle Fanning), while some took the whole loungewear craze to new heights. Director Chloe Zhao—who would go on to have an historic night, winning both Best Director and Best Dramatic Film for the transcendent Nomadland—wore a moss green T-shirt that looked like something she might later choose to sleep in (points for efficiency). Jason Sudeikis, who recently split with his longtime partner Olivia Wilde, wore a tie-dye hoodie (“Jason Sudeikis looks so single,” showbiz journalist David Poland tweeted). Jeff Daniels was in full Dad-mode, sporting a basic plaid shirt. Bill Murray wore a Hawaiian shirt (although one suspects he would’ve also worn that to the main show). Jodie Foster and her wife (more on them in a bit) seemed to be in very expensive and glamorous pajamas. I guess we should count our blessings that no one stood up to accidentally reveal they weren’t wearing pants.

Off the Hook
In a traditional awards show, the winner knows it’s time to wrap things up when the music begins “playing them off.” This concept was apparently in place for the virtual Golden Globes, but with one problem—the winners couldn’t hear the music. Jason Sudeikis, again, giving off Big Single Guy Energy, rambled on only semi-coherently after winning Best Actor in a Comedy Series for Ted Lasso. While the music didn’t rise in this case, something even worse happened: fellow nominee Don Cheadle gave him the dreaded spinning finger, “wrap it up” sign. Again, I ask, did Cheadle know he was on camera? Was this meant to be an inside joke with his wife? Or was he aware that he was really gesturing to Sudeikis? These are questions we may never have answered.

Other winners spoke right through their exit music and Catherine O’Hara, a winner for Schitt’s Creek, attempted a schtick that went awry. Her husband tried to play her off with music from his iPhone, but he was so busily and anxiously fussing with his phone during her speech, it was distracting. Then, once he finally cued the music, the reception off a phone within a Zoom call was about as good as one can expect—that is, fuzzy, feedbacky, and hard to hear. In other words, I think the joke was that he was playing her off, award-show style, but we’ll never know for sure.

The Elephant in the Room
It was only a week ago that it was disclosed that the HFPA has no (that’s zero) Black members—a rather disgraceful fact and perhaps the explanation for why Michaela Cole’s brilliant and buzzed about I May Destroy You was not nominated. “It’s good to be Black at the Golden Globes….I mean, back at the Golden Globes,” said presenter Sterling K. Brown. “Thank you to the all-white Hollywood Foreign Press,” said double winner Sasha Baron Cohen.

Even Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who hosted from opposite coasts, remarked on it, getting (mostly) serious toward the end of their monologue:  “…Inclusivity is important, and there are no Black members of the Hollywood Foreign Press,” Fey said. “I realize, HFPA, maybe you didn’t get the memo, because your workplace is the back booth of a French McDonald’s, but you gotta change that, so here’s to changing that.”

Finally, three members of the HFPA got on stage, socially distanced, of course, and took their lumps, admitting they were in the wrong and they would take active measures to change things. We’re going to hold you to that, HFPA!

The Show Wasn’t All Bad! Here Are (Some of the) Great Things That Happened.

  • With Zhao’s win, she became just the second woman (after Barbra Streisand for Yentl) to win the Golden Globes Best Director trophy, and the first Asian-American woman.
  • Chadwick Boseman posthumously won the Best Actor in a Drama award for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and his widow, Simone Ledward Boseman, tearfully accepted on his behalf. “He would thank God. He would thank his parents. He would thank his ancestors for their guidance and their sacrifices,” Ledward Boseman said of her late husband. She closed the speech by saying, “Honey, you keep ’em coming.” It was note perfect.
  • Jodie Foster celebrated her upset win (for The Mauritanian ) by kissing her wife, Alexandra Hedison (who, in turn, kissed their dog, Ziggy, a moment I found highly relatable). This was particularly poignant for those of us who have followed the actress’ somewhat protracted coming out journey. As I tweeted last night, “Jodie kissing her wife is truly a beautiful moment. Sometimes we need to reflect on how far we’ve come.”
  • Norman Lear, all of 98 years old, won the Carol Burnett Award and was as witty, wise, and puckish as ever (yes, he wore his trademark floppy hat). It was particularly charming to hear how much he admires fellow trailblazer Carol Burnett.
  • Speaking of lifetime achievement awards, Jane Fonda won the Cecil B. DeMille award. On top of looking ravishing with her perfectly coiffed silver hair and bone-colored suit, she absolutely killed the acceptance speech, living up to her social justice roots and even mentioning the aforementioned snub of I May Destroy You. Slay on, Queen.
  • In another out-of-left-field upset, Andra Day, won for The United States v. Billie Holiday. The actress looked truly stunned, which is always fun to see at a time when a lot of awards seem preordained. Of course, it was also nice to see Baltimore’s own Lady Day get this continued recognition.
  • When Lee Isaac Chung accepted the Best Foreign Language Film award for Minari (category fraud for this American-made film, but I digress), his adorable young daughter jumped into his arms. “I prayed! I prayed!” she said, jubilantly, snuggling her face in his shoulder. It seems her prayers were answered.