Golden Globes 2019: Bohemian Rhapsody's win jarred on a night that celebrated progress

Maybe next month’s Oscars will do better but, as Alexandra Pollard writes, the controversial biopic’s win felt jarring

Monday 07 January 2019 10:09
Host Sandra Oh was the first Asian woman in 40 years to win in the Best Actress in a TV Drama category for ‘Killing Eve’
Host Sandra Oh was the first Asian woman in 40 years to win in the Best Actress in a TV Drama category for ‘Killing Eve’

Last night’s Golden Globes ended not with a bang but with a whimper. Or, at least, a baffling decision. Bohemian Rhapsody, the weakest of the five nominees in the Best Motion Picture – Drama category, defied the bookies’ odds and won the biggest award of the evening.

Though it was a box-office smash, the film, which stars Rami Malek as Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, has been accused of mishandling the late singer’s sexuality. A review in Forbes magazine accused it of “refram[ing] his life story as an Afterschool Special about the dangers of partying and gay sex ... Whether it’s homophobic or old-school slut-shaming, it’s icky”. The decision to hire director Bryan Singer, who has faced numerous sexual assault accusations dating back to the Nineties (allegations he denies), also caused consternation.

On quality alone, the film didn’t deserve to beat four such powerful, confidently realised creations as Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, If Beale Street Could Talk and A Star is Born. But given the more troubling context around it, Bohemian Rhapsody‘s win felt even more jarring – particularly on a night that celebrated change and progress in the wake of the solemn mood that (rightly) defined last year’s proceedings.

In 2018, after a litany of film industry men were accused of grossly abusing their power, largely triggered by the sexual assault allegations against Hollywood heavyweight Harvey Weinstein, the Golden Globes were a sombre affair. With Time’s Up and #MeToo movements gathering steam, actresses wore black on the red carpet, brought activists as their dates, and donned Time’s Up pins: a far cry from the usual, “who are you wearing?” awards ceremony frivolity.

The need for change had become impossible to ignore, and the night was dominated by a palpable, necessary tension.

This year, that tension was at least partially lifted. Not because everything’s been fixed – when the problems run this deep, there’s only so much progress that can be made in a year – but because, in the words of presenter Sandra Oh, “I don’t think it’s shallow to 1) have fun and 2) be honestly celebratory. I’m not interested in [talking about Trump] at all. What I’m interested in is pointing to actual real change.”

That’s exactly what happened. A few years on from the #OscarsSoWhite furore, the nominees and winners covered a far wider range of voices and stories than before. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a wonderful film with a black teenage protagonist, won Best Animated Film.

Roma, Alfonso Cuaron’s Netflix drama about a Mixtec maid working in Seventies Mexico City, won Best Foreign Language Film. Mahershala Ali was awarded for his performance as concert pianist Don Shirley in Green Book (though that film has faced a backlash for its apparent white saviour narrative).

Sandra Oh was the first Asian woman in 40 years to win in the Best Actress in a TV Drama category for Killing Eve, and Regina King took home the Supporting Actress gong for Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk. “Thank you,” she told Jenkins, “for giving us a film that my son said, when he saw it, this is the first time he saw himself.”

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A brief moment of appreciation, too, for when Emma Stone yelled out an earnest, “I’m sorry!” for playing an Asian woman in 2013’s Aloha.

Many of the night’s punch-the-air moments came from women. With the heavy responsibility of last year lifted, their expressions of support for one another didn’t always have to be so weighty. Olivia Colman, having won Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy for The Favourite, warmly called her co-stars Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone “my b****es”.

When Rachel Brosnahan won for Amazon’s comedy-drama The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, meanwhile, she said: “Thank you to the incredible village it takes to make this show… and our village is a matriarchy.”

It was a delight, too, to see some practical resolutions towards continued change. In a similar move to Frances McDormand’s famous “inclusion rider” plea at the Oscars last year, Regina King vowed that in the next two years the cast and crew of everything she produces will comprise 50 per cent women. “I challenge anyone out there who is in a position of power, not just in our industry, in all industries, to do the same,” she said.

Perhaps the best speech of the night came from Glenn Close, who beat out favourite Lady Gaga (A Star is Born was snubbed in almost every category, in fact) to win Best Actress for The Wife. Close pointed out the stifled female creativity around which the film revolves.

Golden Globes 2019: Glenn Close makes powerful speech after winning Best Actress in a TV Drama

“Women, we’re nurturers, that’s what’s expected of us,” she said. “We have our children. We have our husbands if we’re lucky enough, and our partners, whoever. But we have to find personal fulfilment. We have to follow our dreams, we have to say, ‘I can do that, and I should be allowed to do that.”

It’s not all good news. Despite Natalie Portman’s barbed introduction last year – “and here are the all-male nominees” – once again, no woman was nominated for Best Director. And while it’s encouraging that films such as Black Panther, with its almost entirely black cast, and Crazy Rich Asians, with its entirely Asian one, were nominated, Green Book’s domination echoes the success of The Blind Side and The Help: voters are more comfortable with films that tackle racism if they centre the white experience while doing so.

Still, progress is happening. “I said yes to the fear of being on this stage tonight because I wanted to be here and look out onto this audience and witness this moment of change,” said Sandra Oh. “I’m not fooling myself. Next year could be different and probably will be. But right now, this moment is real.”

Maybe next month’s Oscars will do even better. Maybe they’ll even nominate some female directors. We can dream.

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