There was no other way to do it: Jerrod Carmichael had to cut to the chase.
When the Golden Globes returned to television last night, its controversial history loomed large over the ceremony. Two years ago, the Los Angeles Times published an investigation of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which gives out the awards. The articles verified what had long been an open secret of the industry: The HFPA was a shoddy organization. It admitted underqualified members, who often made unethical decisions. Or, to put it bluntly, as Ricky Gervais did in 2011, “they accepted bribes.” One grimly hilarious takeaway was that in 2019, Paramount, the network originally responsible for Emily in Paris, invited over 30 HFPA members to Paris and treated them to a vacation worth thousands of dollars each. Lo and behold, Emily in Paris, which audiences called “impossibly bad and basic,” earned two nominations.
But the simpler and more damning revelation was that the HFPA had no Black members in its 87-person organization. Though the Los Angeles Times report acknowledged the HFPA included “a number of people of color” among its members, it didn’t offer a demographic breakdown. 0 Black members out of 87 became the defining statistic of the HFPA.
0 Black members out of 87 became the defining statistic of the HFPA.
The absence of Black voters wasn’t surprising, given that year’s Golden Globe nominees, which were announced two days before the Los Angeles Times investigation. The nominations for Best Picture – Drama left out critically acclaimed Black-led projects like Judas and the Black Messiah, which went on to earn six Oscar nominations and win two. Meanwhile, the nominations for Best Picture – Musical/Comedy included “Music,” Sia’s directorial debut that critics called “the worst film of 2021.”
Owing to the controversy over corruption and racism at the HFPA, NBC declined to broadcast the Golden Globes ceremony last year, instead posting the results on Twitter. This year, NBC did air the ceremony. But the channel chose to do so on a Tuesday night rather than the typical Sunday, so as not to interfere with the reliably profitable Sunday Night Football. And, to showcase its dazzling new commitment to diversity, the HFPA invited Jerrod Carmichael, a gay, Black comedian most recently famous for his Emmy-winning HBO special Rothaniel, to host.
It was an easy Band-Aid solution; attaching a trendy Black star to the event would give it the veneer of progress. All the promotional material would rest on the promise, implicit in Carmichael’s name and face, that the HFPA had heard the criticism about its prejudice against Black artists, and it was working to fix it.
Carmichael had no choice but to address the obvious tokenization. He opened the night by telling the audience, “I am your host, Jerrod Carmichael, and I’ll tell you why I’m here. I’m here because I’m Black.” Uncomfortable laughter rippled through the room; Carmichael continued, undeterred. He spoke soberly about the “moral, racial” dilemma he’d faced in choosing whether to accept the invitation.
As Carmichael acknowledged, hosting the Golden Globes is “a great opportunity.” It’s typically reserved for comedians entrenched in the Hollywood establishment; in the last 14 years, Ricky Gervais and duo Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have hosted the event nine times. But, clearly, the Golden Globes were on a mission to rehabilitate its image, and Carmichael’s invitation reflected that necessity, rather than his success. If he was personally disappointed by this undermining of his talent, he didn’t let it show in his opening monologue; he focused more on the superficiality of the HFPA’s reforms. But any hardworking professional from a marginalized background knows the bittersweetness of this kind of career reward. What would be an honor freely given to a white person becomes a twisted exchange. We’ll grant you this status because it makes us look good. We’ll leverage your success as proof of our success.
Any hardworking professional from a marginalized background knows the bittersweetness of this kind of career reward.
Swallowing this insult, and putting on an easy, comfortable show for the audience, would mean letting the HFPA get away with using him. So Carmichael unpacked its thorny implications in the form of questions he asked himself and his friends. Could he allow himself to participate in the Golden Globes’ bid for a comeback story, ignoring the racist history — and present — of the organization putting it on? Should he just take the money and be done with it?
For fans of Rothaniel, Carmichael was doing what he does best: talking honestly about his place in the world, with a dash of comedy mixed in. The style that has become Carmichael’s signature is intimate and unimpressed by bullshit. For part of the monologue, he sat on the steps of the Golden Globes stage, seeming to address himself more than the audience. He didn’t bother entertaining PR defenses or delusions of grandeur. He talked about getting encouragement from the Golden Globes producer, Stephen Hill, who invited him to host. Hill insisted that Carmichael had earned the invitation with talent, charm, and singularity, not because he was Black. “But Stephen’s Black, so what does he know?” Carmichael asked. “They’re not going to tell him why he’s here, either.”
It was clear that many of the guests in attendance had prepared themselves for a graceful slide back into usual awards season form. They seemed ready to leave behind the controversy that weighed on Carmichael. There were few laughs, though there were plenty of genteel smiles.
Nobody in the room wanted to hear Hollywood’s uncomfortable truths. This sentiment was made most glaringly obvious when Carmichael introduced Jay Ellis and Glen Powell, two presenters and stars of Top Gun: Maverick. Carmichael joked about trading Tom Cruise’s returned Golden Globes for the safe return of Shelly Miscavige, the wife of the leader of Scientology, who hasn’t been seen publicly since 2007. Ellis and Powell then proceeded to deliver a dozen fawning jokes about Cruise while everyone pretended not to notice the dissonance.
In hosting, Carmichael bore the lonely responsibility of representing the awards show in its entirety. He needed to balance its aims against its hypocrisies, its stated values against its actual practices. He needed to entertain an increasingly drunk audience, celebrate the artists being honored, and speak truthfully about an institution that was paying him to flatter it.
It was a trap. And the only way out was to relinquish the ostensible goal of comedy — getting a giggle — in favor of the truer, more radical one — eradicating taboo to tell the truth. Hollywood’s taboos are firmly cemented, especially on nights like these, when celebrities and fans alike are accustomed to basking in the glamour. But Carmichael was, perhaps unintentionally, the perfect comedian for the moment. Whether or not the HFPA knew what they were doing, they hired the best person to call them on their bullshit. And if the Golden Globes are really back, which seems inevitable, at least Carmichael didn’t lift a finger to put the awards back up on their pedestal. ●