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Historic firsts burnish 2021 Golden Globes as critics take aim at Hollywood

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In a night full of first-time honorees, Beijing-born Chloé Zhao became the first woman of color named Best Director at the Golden Globe Awards. And Zhao wasn’t alone — many of the new winners at the U.S. awards season’s opener were also artists of color, even as the Globes’ parent organization, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and other Hollywood institutions face harsh criticism over a lack of diversity

Zhao, a first-time Globe nominee, is just the second woman to win Best Director at the award show, 37 years after Barbra Streisand for 1983’s “Yentl.” In another first for the category, she was one of three female nominees, beating Regina King for “One Night in Miami” and Emerald Fennell for “Promising Young Woman.” She also took home Best Drama Movie for her film, “Nomadland.” 

Debut actress Andra Day similarly had her first win, for her portrayal of the titular jazz singer in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.” Day became the first Black woman to win a Best Actress award (for a Drama Movie) since Whoopi Goldberg took home the trophy 35 years ago for “The Color Purple.”   

Chadwick Boseman’s win for Best Actor in a Drama Movie was also his first nomination. He won posthumously for his last movie, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” His wife Taylor Simone Ledward gave an emotional acceptance speech on behalf of the 43-year-old star, who died last August following a private battle with colon cancer.

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Zhao, Day and Boseman were not the only first-time Globe nominees who also won on Sunday night. Daniel Kaluuya also picked up his first, for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Movie as Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton in the historical drama “Judas and the Black Messiah.” Kaluuya is the fifth Black man to win this category, following Mahershala Ali in 2019, Eddie Murphy in 2007, Denzel Washington in 1990 and Louis Gossett Jr. in 1983. 

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First-timers were also honored for their achievements on the small screen. John Boyega saw his first nomination turn into a win, for Best Supporting Actor in a TV Series  for”Small Axe,” and seemed genuinely stunned to have won. The co-director of “Soul,” Kemp Powers was the first Black debut filmmaker to win a Golden Globe, and just the second Black director to win in the Best Animated Picture category, after Phil Ramsey’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.” Korean-American drama “Minari” director Lee Isaac Chung too took home his first Golden Globe, for Best Foreign Language Film — a category that also drew a lot of flack for the association.

In fact, the HFPA’s shortcomings remained a point of focus for the evening — particularly its lack of Black members for more than two decades. From co-hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to presenter Sterling K. Brown — who noted, “It’s great to be Black at the Golden Globe Awards” — to winner Sacha Baron Cohen, who thanked “the all-white Hollywood Foreign Press Association,” critics took aim at the organization and Hollywood overall for the lack of recognition and celebration of artists of color. 

Cecile B. DeMille award honoree Jane Fonda said in her speech Sunday, “There’s a story we’ve been afraid to see and hear about ourselves in this industry, a story about which voices we respect and elevate and which we tune out, a story about who’s offered a seat at the table and who is kept out of the rooms where decisions are made.” The longtime activist urged inclusivity, saying, “Let’s all of us, including all the groups that decide who gets hired and what gets made and who wins awards … make an effort to expand that tent so that everyone rises and everyone’s story has a chance to be seen and heard.” 

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The organization attempted to acknowledge the controversy, as three members — president Ali Sar, vice president Helene Hoehne, and former president Meher Tatna, who is of South Asian descent — took the stage to awkwardly pledge to do better. 

But in a letter sent to the association, Time’s Up CEO Tina Tchen said, “The HFPA’s statements tonight and over the last several days indicate a fundamental lack of understanding of the depth of the problems at hand.”

“Your stated version of change is cosmetic — find Black people,” she said. “That is not a solution.”

Other notable first-time Golden Globes wins

First-time nominations turned into wins for 24-year-old British-Argentine actress Anya Taylor-Joy, who won Best Actress in a Limited Series for Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit”; Catherine O’Hara, who bagged her first Golden Globe for her portrayal of flamboyant “Schitt’s Creek” matriarch Moira Rose; Daniel Levy, who accepted the award for Best Musical or Comedy Series; Jason Sudeikis, whose win for “Ted Lasso” was also a first for streaming service Apple TV+; and on-screen royal couple Josh O’Connor as Prince Charles and Emma Corrin as Princess Diana in “The Crown.” 

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Four-time nominee Mark Ruffalo got his first win, for Best Actor in a Limited Series (“I Know This Much Is True”) — and also spoke spoke about inclusivity, connection and caring for Mother Earth in a moving acceptance speech — as did three-time nominee and Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy Movie winner Rosamund Pike (“I Care A Lot”). And with his prize for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy Movie, Sacha Baron Cohen became the first actor to win two awards for the same film character, Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyav. 

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