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‘When They See Us’: Acclaimed at the Critics’ Choice, Snubbed at the Golden Globes

After a banner year for inclusive nominations at the 2019 Golden Globes, 2020 marks a step back for worthy TV shows featuring people of color.


“When They See Us”

Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix

Just yesterday, Netflix’s “When They See Us” stood atop the Critics’ Choice Award nominations with six total, including an overall nod for Limited Series and in the acting categories for stars Jharrel Jerome, Asante Blackk, John Leguizamo, Marsha Stephanie Black and Niecy Nash.

This morning, it was shut out of the Golden Globes entirely.

The incomprehensible vagaries of awards season are legendary — especially in the age of peak TV — but to go from hero to zero in the span of a day points to a particularly egregious oversight on behalf of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

It’s possible that the Ava DuVernay-directed series wasn’t even considered because it has already been widely-recognized, including 16 Primetime Emmy Awards nominations, and the HFPA loves to see themselves in the role of kingmakers to unheralded series.

However, given the dearth of nominees of color this year, as well as the total shutout of women directed films in the Director – Motion Picture category, the lack of nominations for “When They See Us” is glaring. Given the many obvious strengths of the miniseries, as well as the fact that it is very timely and directly addresses diversity concerns, it’s a missed opportunity by the HFPA that should’ve been a slam dunk decision, certainly over “Catch-22,” which wasn’t as well received and reviewed.

Nominees in the Television Limited Series category included “Catch-22″ (Hulu), “Chernobyl” (HBO), “Fosse/Verdon” (FX), “The Loudest Voice” (Showtime) and “Unbelievable” (Netflix); and Actor nominees include Christopher Abbott (“Catch-22”), Sacha Baron Cohen (“The Spy”), Russell Crowe (“The Loudest Voice”), Jared Harris (“Chernobyl”), and Sam Rockwell (“Fosse/Verdon”).

George Clooney’s “Catch-22” is the surprise in both categories, because the World War II miniseries received just two Emmy nominations, and in technical categories (sound editing and visual effects). But it appears that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) felt it was a stronger choice over “When They See Us,” assuming the final slot came down to a battle between both series.

It’s certainly possible that the HFPA wanted to reward a Netflix miniseries and went with “Unbelievable” over “When They See Us.” However, that doesn’t explain why star Jharrel Jerome’s magnificent performance in the series — one of the most celebrated of the year in all of television — was ignored in the acting category.

For his role as Korey Wise, Jerome went through a daunting emotional and physical transformation to deliver an unforgettable performance, so intense and raw, which took a toll on him psychologically. It’s a performance for which the young actor was nominated for and won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie.

The series itself has been, and continues to be celebrated, for laying out the harrowing events endured by the Central Park Five, now the Exonerated Five, of the widely-covered 1989 Central Park jogger case, while adding a necessary layer of humanity to their story. It challenges viewers to re-evaluate the imbalances of an incredibly flawed judicial system in America.

It also won the Gotham Awards for Breakthrough Series – Long Form, and is nominated in several categories at the Critics Choice Awards, as its most recognized series.

DuVernay didn’t directly address the snub, but she did share the following on Twitter this morning:

The snub is especially notable, a year after the Globes were praised for having one of its most diverse nominee lineups in its 77-year history.

At the 2019 Globes, four out of the five films in the Best Motion Picture, Drama category — arguably the most important category — told stories about people of color. And the acting categories were also quite diverse, resulting in four wins by people of color: Rami Malek won the Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama; Regina King won the Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture; and Mahershala Ali won the Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture.

On the TV end, Sandra Oh won Best Performance by Actress in a TV series – Drama, becoming the first woman of Asian descent to win two Golden Globes — although she and Darren Criss were the only two television actors of color to win awards.

So while some progress is being made, there’s still much work to be done, especially in the TV categories. The 2019 Globes, like this year, missed a number of obvious opportunities to reward worthy TV actors of color, and series led by actors of color.

For example, every Musical or Comedy Series nominee was led by white actors (“Barry,” “The Kominsky Method,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Kidding,” and “The Good Place”). FX’s “Atlanta,” which won the category in 2017, was shut out.

Donald Glover did get a nomination for best actor, making him the only actor of color in that category.

Meanwhile, in all the Supporting Performance categories, notable snubs of color included Brian Tyree Henry (“Atlanta”), as well as “Pose” breakouts Indya Moore and Dominique Jackson. They all would have been worthy additions to categories that lacked diversity.

And every single Musical or Comedy actress nominee was white, which was glaring for a category that previously nominated Tracee Ellis Ross (“Black-ish”), Issa Rae (“Insecure”) and Gina Rodriguez (“Jane the Virgin”).

This year, maybe the most egregious of all facts is that no woman is nominated in the Motion Picture directing category, in a banner year for films directed by women, including Greta Gerwig (“Little Women”), Lulu Wang (“The Farewell”), Marielle Heller (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”) and Lorene Scafaria (“Hustlers”).

No woman has won a Golden Globe for directing in more than 30 years. In fact, in its almost eight decades, only five women have been nominated for the directing award: Barbra Streisand (“Yentl” and “The Prince of Tides”), Jane Campion (“The Piano”), Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”), Ava DuVernay (“Selma”) and Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty”). Streisand remains the only one of the five to win the award, for “Yentl” in 1984.

Clearly there’s still a lot of progress to be made in terms of diversity and inclusion.

Ricky Gervais will host the 77th Golden Globe Awards ceremony on January 5 live from the Beverly Hilton.

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