With COVID-19 shutdowns pushing back the releases of many prominent films, the 78th Golden Globe Awards will be held on Feb. 28, nearly two months later than their typical January airing. When the nominees were announced on Feb. 3, they were an immediate source of conversation, and for better or for worse, they came with plenty of surprises.

Women have historically been shut out of the Best Director category, at the Golden Globes and at most other award ceremonies. The last woman nominated for a Golden Globe for directing was Ava DuVernay’s 2015 nomination for “Selma.” This year, however, a majority—three out of the five nominees—are women: Emerald Fennell for “Promising Young Woman,” Regina King for “One Night in Miami,” and Chloé Zhao for “Nomadland.” Also nominated were David Fincher for “Mank” and Aaron Sorkin for “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” This is the first time in the Golden Globe’s history that this many women have been nominated the category for Best Director in one year. With the inclusion of King, who is African American, and Zhao, who is a Chinese American immigrant, this year’s field of directing nominees is also more racially diverse than previous seasons. Notably, Fennell and King are both first-time film directors, having begun their careers in acting.

Many of the most-nominated works, including “Mank,” “Promising Young Woman,” and “Nomadland” in the film categories, and “The Crown” and “The Queen’s Gambit” in the television categories went into awards season as critically acclaimed favorites. 

c/o imdb.com

c/o imdb.com

Similar to past years, controversy was ever present in the 2021 nominations. Notable snubs included a lack of recognition of  director Spike Lee’s film “Da 5 Bloods,” and the HBO series “I May Destroy You,” created by and starring Michaela Coel. These oversights drew criticism from various media outlets, especially given the Golden Globes’ historical lack of recognition of work featuring and created by people of color. Both of these works center Black perspectives; “Da 5 Bloods” explores the experiences of African American veterans of the Vietnam War struggling with racism and PTSD, and “I May Destroy You,” a show that navigates the complexities of sexual relationships and assault predominantly through the perspectives of individuals of color, features a predominantly Black British lead cast.

The significant differences in cultural relevance between nominated shows such as “Emily in Paris,” a lighthearted show depicting an idealized Paris with the city’s diverse multiethnic population largely absent, and shows like “I May Destroy You,” which did not receive a single nomination, may signify a larger disconnect between the preferences of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) and its audience. The HFPA, who decide the Golden Globe nominations, are after all an idiosyncratic group of around 90 international critics, according to their website.

Deborah Copaken, a writer on “Emily in Paris,” which received nominations for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy and Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy for star Lily Collins despite mixed reviews, penned an article in The Guardian titled “I’m a writer on ‘Emily in Paris.’ ‘I May Destroy You’ deserved a Golden Globe nomination.” 

“That ‘I May Destroy You’ did not get one Golden Globe nod is not only wrong, it’s what is wrong with everything,” Copaken wrote. 

c/o metacritic.com

c/o metacritic.com

Another eye-catching snub was writer-director Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari,” a drama about a Korean immigrant family who moves to rural Arkansas. Despite being one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, “Minari” fell victim to the Golden Globes’ lack of acceptance of non-English language films through the HFPA’s discriminatory dialogue regulations. Since the main categories for film require at least 50 percent of dialogue to be in English, “Minari” was relegated to the Best Motion Picture—Foreign Language category. 

This categorization of “Minari” has proven controversial, as although the film is primarily in Korean, director Chung, star Steven Yeun, and its production company A24 are all American. Prominent Asian American figures within the film industry slammed the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s decision through social media, including Korean American actor Daniel Dae Kim.  

“The film equivalent of being told to go back to your country when that country is actually America,” Kim stated, retweeting news that “Minari” would not be competing in the Best Picture category. 

Furthermore, it should be noted that these language rules have not always been applied evenly. Some prominent multilingual American productions, such as Clint Eastwood’s “Letters From Iwo Jima,” which is in Japanese, and Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto,” which is in Yucatec Mayan, both competed as foreign language films in the 2007 Golden Globes. Meanwhile, other productions, such as Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 2006 film “Babel,” which features English, Spanish, Japanese, and Arabic dialogue, and Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 film “Inglourious Basterds,” in which a majority of dialogue is in German and French, competed in the main categories.

Such dubious foreign-language category practices even came under question in last year’s Golden Globes, regarding Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell.” Despite Wang and star Awkwafina being Asian American and the film centering on a particularly Asian American experience, similar to “Minari,” the film was placed in the foreign-language category for heavily featuring dialogue in Mandarin Chinese.

This year, all 30 of the acting nominations for films came from English-language features. Despite being recognized by numerous critics associations, as well as receiving nominations from the Screen Actors Guild Awards (among others), “Minari” stars Steven Yeun and Youn Yuh-jung were not recognized by the Golden Globes. 

The Golden Globes’s controversial choices have raised questions surrounding the necessity for categorization of foreign-language films. Despite the rising prominence of international films within Western media in recent years, as displayed by the success of  Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” and Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma”, the Golden Globes and other prominent award shows have yet to fully integrate foreign-language films into their more prestigious categories. 

This also brings into question whether or not language-based distinctions are necessary for award shows, given that art transcends languages and culture. If anything, the roaring success of international television shows such as “Money Heist” symbolize the dichotomy between an increasingly globalized landscape of media consumption and the Golden Globes’ archaic attempts to resist it. 

Despite its many milestones, the controversies to come from this year’s Golden Globes nominations reflect the diminishing legitimacy and relevancy of such awards shows. Institutions like the HFPA may be slow to progress, as shown by some of their nomination preferences and their belittling handling of non-English cinema. However, viewers of the Golden Globes are likely ahead of the people running the awards show, looking towards film’s more diverse and global future.

Oscar Kim Bauman can be reached at obauman@wesleyan.edu on Twitter @oscarkimbauman.

Will Lee can be reached at swlee@wesleyan.edu.