Golden Globes Have Historic Night, But Not Because of Who Won (Analysis)

The show was a black-clad statement of purpose that focused on empowering women, not celebrating the films and TV shows that won awards

One of the winning films, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” is about the fury of a woman who demands justice. Another, “Lady Bird,” is about a teenage girl desperate to grow into who she wants to be.  Two of the winning television shows, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “Big Little Lies,” are about and are driven by women.

But while those wins were emblematic of a show that championed female voices from start to finish, they were not the real story of the 75th Golden Globe Awards. After all, the opinions of about 90 journalists for foreign publications won’t set the tone for the next eight weeks of awards season, and won’t make Oscar voters think any more of “Three Billboards” or any less of “The Shape of Water.”

Who won has rarely been less significant to a Golden Globes show, and what was said has rarely been more significant.

Sunday’s show was a black-clad statement of purpose that didn’t really have much to do with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association or the statuettes that were handed out on the stage of the Beverly Hilton.

The resonance from the Globes will be because it was the show that made it clear that Hollywood — particularly women in Hollywood — are demanding fundamental changes. On Sunday, that insistence took the form of dozens of black dresses, a Seth Meyers monologue that savaged Hollywood’s status quo and a parade of winners who used their time onstage to champion female empowerment, culminating in an Oprah Winfrey speech that rocked the room.

Accepting her best-actress award for “Three Billboards,” Frances McDormand pronounced herself honored “to be a part of a tectonic shift in our industry’s power structure.”

Of course, most of what happens on the Golden Globes stage is ephemeral; most years, we have a hard time remembering who won or what was said even a few weeks later. The real challenge of this show will come in taking the trappings of protest – the black dresses, the buttons and ribbons, the calls to arms – and effecting a change in the culture, not a saber-rattling couple of hours on a Sunday night.

And while many of the big winners on Sunday were shows and films with women as their driving forces — “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Big Little Lies,” “Lady Bird” — it’ll take a significant amount of reshuffling in the executive suites before we’ll reach anything like equality in the number of men and women who come to the stage to pick up trophies.

Still, the show managed to celebrate artistry in the shadow of the sexual-misconduct allegations that have rocked Hollywood. As Chris Rock did at the Oscars two years ago during the height of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, Meyers made the elephant in the room the entire focus of his monologue; it didn’t always work, but it was probably the best way to handle a tricky situation.

(His comment about other upcoming hosts watching him like he’s the first dog shot into space was spot-on.)

As for the voters and their choices, it was largely business as usual for the HFPA, which often celebrates favorites (“Big Little Lies,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Saoirse Ronan, Gary Oldman) but likes to get to new TV shows before the Emmys can (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”) and sometimes shows a quirky side.

The quirks first came in the supporting actor and actress film categories, where voters liked their movies tough: Winners Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards”) and Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”) played characters with more sharp edges and disagreeable traits than the favored performers in their categories, Willem Dafoe (“The Florida Project”) and Laurie Metcalf (“Lady Bird”).

Guillermo del Toro won his expected best-director award for “The Shape of Water,” but in the end his film had to settle for director and score wins while the darker “Three Billboards” turned out to be the one voters really loved. And on the musical-or-comedy side, Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” was shut out while Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” won the big prize.

But why are we talking about prizes? That’s not what the Golden Globes were about, and everybody knows it.