'Atlanta' Dominated, 'Moonlight' Didn't, and Film Is Still Pretty White

Two of the biggest Golden Globe wins of the night showed the schism between television and film.

Atlanta Golden Globes

Image via Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Atlanta Golden Globes

After Sylvester Stallone and Carl Weathers took the stage last night to presentMoonlight the Golden Globe for Best Picture (Drama) to close out the ceremony, the ballroom of the Beverly Hills Hilton—and, most likely, millions of viewers at home—leapt to their feet to offer an ovation that the film deserved. Moonlight, Barry Jenkins’ achingly personal, lyrical masterpiece has enjoyed both a record-breaking box office run and a victorious awards season campaign, racking up numerous best picture, directing and acting accolades from film critics circles and other distinguished juries. It has dominated the awards chatter and been atop the majority of Oscar prognosticators’ lists. And rightfully so. So how did Moonlight’s monumental Golden Globe win manage to feel…slight?

Maybe it was the trends and tenor of the ceremony leading up to that moment that caused #TeamMoonlight to feel relief rather than revelry. Throughout the show, we witnessed Damien Chazelle’s technicolor musical fantasy La La Land collect all the hardware across the categorical board: Ryan Gosling for Best Actor (Comedy/Musical), Emma Stone for Best Actress (Comedy/Musical), Chazelle for Best Director and again for Best Screenplay, and Best Picture (Comedy/Musical). La La Land is now the most-winning film in Golden Globes history. Moonlight, up until that final moment, looked like it was going home empty handed in the ceremonial precursor to the Oscars where momentum is everything. 

Things were bizarre from jump. Mahershala Ali, who plays the drug-dealing paternal surrogate Juan in Moonlight and has yet to leave an awards ceremony without a Best Supporting Actor acknowledgement this season, saw his streak come to an end when he lost out to Aaron Taylor Johnson’s seriously-sideburned sociopath from Nocturnal Animals. What could have been a fluke contrarian wildcard moment from the notoriously odd Hollywood Foreign Press quickly became the rule rather than exception. We watched Barry Jenkins lose for both Best Screenplay and Best Director and Naomie Harris lose for Best Supporting Actress. Not a single person came on stage to celebrate Moonlight until Brad Pitt, whose production company helped finance the picture alongside A24, showed up to introduce a montage from the film. The optics were eternally embarrassing: the only ambassador we got to hear from regarding a film that illustrates the intricacies of the black experience—created and performed by black artists—was a white guy. It was a representation fail that echoed into the night.

Across the aisle in the TV categories, however, it felt like a totally different ceremony, one where diversity and inclusivity were not only paramount but also felt refreshingly normalized. Tracee Ellis Ross, who has quietly been carrying the comedic weight of black-ish for three seasons now, became the first black woman to win Best Actress (Comedy Series) since Debbie Allen collected her Globe 35 years ago for Fame. In what was one of the most graceful, essential speeches of the night, Ross reminded the mostly white room that her award was “for all the women, women of color, and colorful people, whose stories, ideas and thoughts are not always considered worthy and valid and important.” It was a moment to be celebrated and considered: this speech wasn’t just refracting light on the failures of diversity in film compared to television. It was an indictment of the industry—and culture—at large. 

The chasm between television and film’s inclusionary shortcomings reached a fever pitch once Donald Glover’s Atlanta started collecting the show's due awards. These were truly the most exciting parts of the Golden Globes, not only for what it means for Donald Glover and hip-hop and black art, but also just in sheer energy and beautifully anarchic spirit. It felt like one of the most punk rock moments in Globes history. 

First, Atlantawon Best Television Series (Music or Comedy) for its freshman season over prestigious veteran shows such as Transparent and Veep. Glover—flanked co-stars Bryan Tyree Henry (Paper Boi), Keith Stanfield (Darius) and Zazie Beetz (Van) and director Hiro Murai—took the stage and preceded to, well, wild out in the most glorious fashion possible. Stanfield created the GIF Seen Around The World with his elastic hip-thrusting dance moves while Henry and Beetz just radiated with pure joy and humility. But it was Glover’s speech, where he thanked the city of Atlanta and black people for just being, that became the most indelible moment of the ceremony. Glover ended the speech with the sincerest thank you to the Migos for their continued excellence and for making "Bad and Boujee," much to the unbridled delight of hip-hop fans across the globe and to the confusion of every white person in that room (I’m looking at you Jessica Chastain and Jake Gyllenhaal). It felt like the celebration of black art, blackness, and inclusive storytelling that is continually neglected on the film side.  

Glover would take the stage merely minutes later to accept the award for Best Actor (Musical or Comedy) and while his stage presence wasn’t as animated, the message of his speech was still cutting and clear. He talked about magic being real in the world, and how Hollywood was instrumental in its alchemy. While it would be unfair to say Hollywood movies have been completely bereft of inclusive stories—Moonlight, Hidden Figures, Loving, The Handmaiden, Fences and The Fits all just came out in the past calendar year—the consistency of how those stories are recognized by the awards committees still seems to trail that of television’s. Let’s hope the Academy picks up the Hollywood Foreign Press’s slack and creates the space for Moonlight and other diverse films to make even more history next month, a history not just defined by printed praise, but by golden tangible trophies as well. 

Making sure you don’t call something Hidden Fences would be a great start. 

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