When it came time to pick the best TV shows of 2020 late last year, I and my fellow critics at NPR were all over the map. But there was one we could all agree on: Michaela Coel's HBO drama I May Destroy You. A masterpiece, it was the only show that landed on everyone's best-of list.
So it was a surprise to look at the roster of nominees for the Golden Globe awards in television on Wednesday and not see her name or the show listed anywhere.
Coel, a British-born Black woman, created, wrote, directed and starred in this searing series about a novelist who slowly comes to realize that she was drugged and raped during a night out with friends. It was based on a horrible experience from her own life — just the sort of personal and artistic courage that awards shows like the Globes are supposed to reward.
But they didn't even give her a chance.
Beyond her own achievements, Coel's work was the best example of how the high-quality TV space saw some much-needed ethnic diversity last year, especially among female performers. Jurnee Smollett, Aunjanue Ellis and Wunmi Mosaku on HBO's Lovecraft Country. Adjoa Andoh, who played the smart, sharp-tongued Lady Danbury on Netflix's hit drama, Bridgerton. Emmy winner Zendaya, in the Christmas episode of HBO's Euphoria. Uzo Aduba as Shirley Chisholm on FX's miniseries Mrs. America.
None nominated by the Globes.
And there was the work from non-white males. Michael K. Williams on Lovecraft. Colman Domingo on Euphoria. Lamorne Morris on Hulu's Woke. Sterling K. Brown, who was nominated in two different Emmy categories for two different roles last year, including NBC's This Is Us. Joshua Caleb Johnson from Showtime's The Good Lord Bird. Nicco Annan as non-binary strip club owner Uncle Clifford on Starz' P-Valley. Chris Rock as crime boss Loy Cannon and Glynn Turman as his second-in-command on the fourth season of FX's Fargo.
All high-quality work. All snubbed by the Globes.
In the past, when people of color came up short in high-profile industry nominations and awards — the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag feels like it happened a century ago, doesn't it? — the argument was that the performances weren't there. But this year, months after a summer where the public reckoning over civil rights and police brutality got two TV shows canceled — Cops and Live PD — that excuse doesn't pass muster any longer.
Two TV projects with predominantly Black casts were nominated in this year's Golden Globes: Lovecraft Country as best drama and Amazon Prime Video's Small Axe as best limited series. Likewise, Black male actors from those projects, Jonathan Majors from Lovecraft and John Boyega from Small Axe, were nominated, along with Don Cheadle from Showtime's Black Monday and Ramy Youssef from Hulu's Ramy. But that still leaves 16 other nomination slots for male performers which all went to white guys.
Not a single Black woman was nominated in the Globes' 20 nomination slots for female performers. (Anya Taylor-Joy, who is of Argentine descent and self-identifies as Latina, was nominated playing a white character on Netflix's The Queen's Gambit.)
It's easy to blame the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the group that chooses Golden Globes nominees and winners. Over the years, they've developed a well-deserved reputation for eccentric choices focused on celebrity, Europeans and those who schmooze them. And unlike the Oscars, they also hand out awards in TV, where their taste is even less predictable.
But the Globes made some amazing choices in its film nominations this year. For the first time, three women were nominated for best director, including Regina King. Non-white performers like Viola Davis, Andra Day, Riz Ahmed, Chadwick Boseman, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Daniel Kaluuya all earned well-deserved nods (as did Anya Taylor-Joy, this time, for the film Emma).
So this diversity problem seems uniquely confined to the Globes' TV side. Last year was undoubtedly a challenge for the TV industry, buffeted by pandemic lockdowns, shifting release schedules, a shortage of new material and more. And as someone who has helped judge honors ranging from the George Foster Peabody Awards to the Critic's Choice Awards, I know that someone always gets snubbed, sometime.
But I also know, when this many great performances surface by people of color in critically-acclaimed TV projects, there is something seriously wrong when so few non-white people are recognized.
Let's hope it doesn't take another hashtag — #GlobesTVSoWhite, perhaps? — to push the HFPA to recognize quality work in television no matter who delivers it.