In 2020, while many of us slouched in bed all day watching Netflix, thousands of actors and filmmakers produced new movies for our entertainment.
On February 28, 2021, the 78th annual Golden Globe Awards celebrated the pandemic-era contributions of these cast and crew members. Celebrities dressed up in snazzy suits and shimmering dresses for the virtual red-carpet ceremony, while I had the privilege to do the same but in my less glamourous pyjamas.
For decades, the Golden Globes has celebrated brilliant filmmakers such as Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and Steven Spielberg. These men headline a long list of honoured directors. But few women. In fact, since the Golden Globes debuted in 1943, only four women have been nominated, with Barbra Streisandbeing the sole woman to win for her 1983 feature, Yentl. That all changed this year.
Beijing-born Chloé Zhao, director of Nomadland, became the second woman ever to win the Golden Globe for Best Director, 38 years after Streisand’s feat. Nomadland—a story of a widow who loses her job and decides to live out of her van—also won the award for Best Motion Picture, Drama.
But Zhao wasn’t the only female director recognized during the night. In fact, three of the five Best Director nominees were women: Zhao, alongside directorial newcomers Regina King and Emerald Fennell. It’s a remarkable achievement given the last woman nominated for best director was Ava DuVernay in 2014.
In the opening monologue, co-hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler wryly labelled the male directors as “two other people” and skipped their mentioning because “[they] were out of time.” Indeed, it was finally time to share and shine the spotlight on women behind the cameras.
Diversity was also on display that evening. Zhao, the winner of Nomadland, is Chinese; Regina King, nominated for One Night in Miami, is Black; and Emerald Fennell, nominated for Promising Young Woman, is Caucasian. The diverse colour palette on-screen was beautiful and inspiring. On the surface, the Globe’s legacy of stark gender and racial imbalance shifted overnight.
Zhao made history by becoming the first woman of colour to win Best Director. Her win meant a lot to the Asian community. On-screen, she brought hope to Asian actors and actresses, who rarely get cast for lead roles and are often confined to stereotypical characters. Off-screen, amid the growing hatred and hate crimes against Asian Americans due to the pandemic, Zhao also brought attention to Asians and their tremendous contributions to the world.
As Zhao said in her acceptance speech: “Compassion is the breakdown of all the barriers between us. A heart-to-heart bonding. Your pain is my pain. It’s mingled and shared between us.”
Prior to this year, no female nominee had competed against another woman in the same category. When presenting the award, Bryce Dallas Howard noted the unprecedented number of female nominees, and wished: “May there be many, many more.”
Although there have only been eight female director nominees in the Globe’s 78-year history, adding Zhao, Fennell, and King to the list is nonetheless a moment to rejoice and celebrate. To bring change is an every-day grind, and we look forward to more first-time wins.
Speaking of first-time honourees, actress Andra Day had her first Best Actress win for her role in The United States vs. Billie Holiday. Day was the first Black woman to win the Best Actress for the genre of Drama since Whoopi Goldberg’s The Color Purple 35 years ago.
Another Black actor, Chadwick Boseman, was recognized with his first Best Actor win for his role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom—a true story of a blues legend. Boseman privately battled with colon cancer while shooting this Netflix film and passed away in August 2020. His wife, Taylor Simone Ledward, gave an emotional, heartfelt speech on behalf of the late star.
Arguably the most powerful speech of the night came from Jane Fonda. The 83-year-old actress, producer, and documentarian—as well as entrepreneur, activist, and author—dedicated her speech to the night’s diverse nominees, calling on the Hollywood industry to further “expand the tent.”
“There’s a story we’ve been afraid to see and hear about ourselves in this industry. A story about which voices we respect and elevate and which we tune out, a story about who’s offered a seat at the table and who’s kept out of the rooms where decisions are made.”
Fonda’s message serves as a poignant reminder that the Golden Globes’ voting body and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association have no Black members. Fonda hopes that, soon, “Everyone’s story will have a chance to be seen and heard.”
It was heartwarming to see Fonda using her airtime to advocate for inclusivity rather than the typical routine of thanking the producers or walking down memory lane. She’s the woman of our time for her unrelenting fight for women’s rights, social justice, and climate change.
And may there be many, many more.