‘When They See Us’ Golden Globes 2020 Snub Speaks To A Deeper Problem in Awards Shows

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‘When They See Us’ Golden Globes 2020 Snub Speaks To A Deeper Problem in Awards Shows

When the Golden Globe nominations were being unveiled Monday morning, I was sure that I had missed the announcement that When They See Us had been nominated in the Best Limited Series. Or that Jharrel Jerome had been nominated for Best Actor. Or that Niecy Nash had been nominated for Best Supporting Actress. But the truth is, the Ava DuVernay-directed series was passed over in favor of choices like Catch-22, Fosse/Verdon, and Chernobyl. The mini-series that managed to lock in 11 Emmy nominations earlier this year couldn’t find a single one at the Golden Globes, and rest assured: that’s no reflection on the quality of the series itself. The lack of nominations for When They See Us is a key indicator that the Globes are impossibly, unnervingly misguided.

Nailing down a specific reason is difficult, likely because it’s a combination of issues. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has always leaned toward filling its tables with the biggest stars in Hollywood. When They See Us is by and large fronted by a cast of up and coming actors. That was part of the power of the mini-series—this painful and complex narrative of the Exonerated Five comes to life without the distraction of well-known faces. That’s the antithesis of what the Golden Globes have come to represent.

Beyond the snub of When They See Us, the 2020 Golden Globes TV nominations are overwhelmingly white. While black actors and directors put out some of the finest work of the year, Jharrel Jerome, Lyupita Nyong’o, Regina King, and Sterling K. Brown were swept aside in favor of nominees that frankly didn’t make any sense.

There’s really no accounting for the oversight. When asked why the HFPA failed to acknowledge any female directors this year, Hollywood Foreign Press Association president Lorenzo Soria said, “What happened is that we don’t vote by gender. We vote by film and accomplishment.” It’s an absolutely unforgivable dodge of the question and the inherent biases of the HFPA, a response that’s on par with the Grammys’s “Women need to step up” argument. It’s also an argument that in no way explains the the lack of nominations for female directors and black creators in the TV categories.

Netflix is notoriously protective of its streaming numbers, but in June, the streaming service reported that When They See Us was the most-streamed series on the platform for the two weeks after its debut. So, it’s not like this was some small indie series only praised by critics. When They See Us was a massive hit that fearlessly tackled the horrific institutionalized racism in America. It was as important and popular piece of work as Chernobyl and Unbelievable—both mini series that received multiple Golden Globe nominations and boasted big star power in the casts.

It’s safe to say that, when it comes to the limited series category, the HFPA does not vote by accomplishment. If it did, When They See Us—arguably the most accomplished limited series in the last five years—would certainly have been nominated. And its omission speaks to the rapidly-fading influence that major award shows like the Golden Globes have on popular culture, television, and cinema.

Justin Kirkland is a writer for Esquire, where he focuses on entertainment, television, and pop culture.

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