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Backstage at the 2019 Golden Globes

After the Saturday deluge left mudslides in Malibu, Sunday afternoon produced blue skies adorned by puffy white clouds in Beverly Hills. The Beverly Hilton was rain ready, but not a drop fell as the stars walked the red carpet for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's 76th Golden Globe Awards ceremony. After the last two years of protests, this year was back to more low-key rumblings. Last year's "Me Too" and "Times Up" advocacy was not entirely forgotten with some stars wearing wristbands and ribbons.

Even the choice of Jeff Bridges as the recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille Award for outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment seemed to signal a less confrontational approach to the sociopolitical scene. Bridges' rambling speech didn't touch on politics. As the first recipient of the Carol Burnett TV Achievement Award, Burnett focused on nostalgia. Neither Bridges nor Burnett came backstage to answer question from the press.

That doesn't mean the Golden Globes was without political and social commentary. Just by choosing Sandra Oh, the HFPA seemed to acknowledge a new era of Asian awareness. Oh said on stage, ""I said yes to the fear of being on this stage tonight because I wanted to be here to look out into this audience and witness this moment of change and I'm not fooling myself. I'm not fooling myself. Next year could be different; it probably will be. But right now, this moment is real. Trust me, it is real. Because I see you. And I see you. All these faces of change. And now, so will everyone else." Later in the evening, Oh won her second Golden Globe for her role in BBC America's "Killing Eve" (Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Drama). Her first was in 2005 for Best Supporting Actress in ABC's "Grey's Anatomy."

Regina King finished her acceptance speech for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture, "If Beale Street Could Talk" by challenging herself and others:

I’m going to use my platform right now to say in the next two years, everything that I produce, I’m making a vow—and it’s going to be tough—to make sure that everything that I produce that it’s 50 percent women. And I just challenge anyone out there who is in a position of power, not just in our industry, in all industries, I challenge you to challenge yourself and stand with us in solidarity and do the same.

Backstage, after winning Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television, Patricia Arquette ("Escape at Dannemora") commented, that "I think diversity is definitely starting to pay off for Hollywood and it probably always would have, so I’m hoping to see more of a trend towards that." Yet, like King, she wasn't satisfied with limiting action and change to the Hollywood movie and television industries, adding, "When I was talking about equal pay, I was talking about 98 percent of all industries. We have a lot of moms out there that are sole breadwinners or primary breadwinners for families, so we have to look at equal pay and opportunity and being in the boardroom and managerial positions and decision making decisions across the board. And I am excited about how many women we have coming into the House and government in more positions of power."

Arquette also felt that her role in "Escape at Dannemora" was a sign of growing openness in the industry, explaining, "I never thought I would get a part like this in middle age. I’m 50 years old. I get to play a woman without a typical body type in Hollywood, who’s a sexual person, unapologetically sexual, complicated, wants love. And I have friends who are—who don’t have the typical body type, they’re bigger women, and one of them has said to me very clearly, hey, I really want to thank you for this project, everyone involved, because it’s the first time I as a big woman felt like I’m allowed to be a sexual being and not fetishized in a jokable way. And I think that’s important because when you look at America, that’s really America."

Arquette went on to describe how her parents took her and her siblings to demonstrations and picket lines and that has translated into all of them becoming activists, something about which Arquette was immensely proud.

After winning Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television ("A Very English Scandal"), Ben Whishaw was asked backstage if he thought that actors "should only play parts that they represent, that is representative of their own experience and character?" Whishaw, who played a fictionalized version of a real gay man responded, "I don’t think that should happen because I really believe that actors can embody and portray anything, and we shouldn’t be defined only by what we are." He also added, "On the other hand, I think there needs to be greater equality. I mean, I would like to see more gay actors playing straight roles. I’d like to see all sorts of things. You know, it should be an even playing field for everybody. That would be my ideal."

Although Christian Bale won Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy for his portrayal of Dick Cheney in the evening's most overtly political movie to win an award, "Vice," Bale was a no-show back stage, but still the current political situation didn't entirely escape commentary. Backstage Joel Fields, one of the executive producers of "The Americans" (Best Television Series - Drama), commented that "It’s funny, when the show began part of its strength to us was the ability to write about the Russians with the sense that people couldn’t imagine that they were our adversaries because it had been so long ago. And it’s unfortunate that the Cold War seems to have heated up again, but our hope is since it happened quickly over the course of the series, maybe we’ll find a way to quickly get back to a warmer place where we can see each other more as human beings and less as adversaries."

There was some grumblings on Twitter regarding E!'s Ryan Seacrest on the red carpet, Michael Douglas winning the night's first award (Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy for Netflix's "The Kominsky Method") or the awkwardness of the absence of director Bryan Singer (Best Motion Picture - Drama for "Bohemian Rhapsody"). All three had been accused sexual misconduct.

Backstage when asked about Singer who was fired from "Bohemian Rhapsody," but per Directors Guild of America guidelines retained credit as the director although Dexter Fletcher was brought in to complete the movie (and credited as an executive producer), the producers and cast members present, including Rami Malek who won Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama, declined to comment. There were gasps backstage in the general press room when "Bohemian Rhapsody" won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture - Drama. People seemed to have assumed that "A Star Is Born" was going to win but that movie only won Best Original Song - Motion Picture for "Shallow."

Mahershala Ali, who won Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for his portrayal of Don Shirley in "Green Book," and the producers of the movie which included Oscar and Golden Globe-winner Octavia Spencer, deferred criticism by Shirley's family wishing them the best but standing by their movie.

The wins by "Green Book" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" came as a surprise at the Golden Globes and perhaps that means there will be more surprises on the way to the Oscars.

A slight controversy over remarks made by Best Director winner Alfonso Cuarón erupted after the ceremony, but it's more due to misunderstood answers than actual tone. Variety reported "Alfonso Cuarón Rips Journalist at Golden Globes for 'Unfair' Netflix Question." Not exactly.

Of the four questions in English that time allowed backstage, two were about Netflix. Cuarón was first asked about if this second win or the first win (for "Gravity" in 2014) was more meaningful. He felt, "This is more meaningful because it is a Mexican film, a Spanish drama" and because it was in black and white and "also about a character who has been invisible in cinema and society."

The third question was about the polarizing effect of the movie to Cuarón replied:

I am just very glad it is creating discussions. The polarization is something that is part of the nature of any trade and endeavor, particularly in our—probably one of the things I am the proudest of is the organizations that are taking films as platforms, like the alliance worker alliance—the Domestic Workers Alliance are taking Roma as a platform for their movement. We are talking about the character.

This is an indigenous worker from a poor background. These are the characters that are in the front—forefront in my film, but we keep them in the background in society. So I like the discussion that is being created. It is also exposing a very pathological behaviors from some sectors of society.

I am very, very, very happy of the representation the movie is having in different mainstream outlets that they are pretty much reserved for certain models that they don’t respond to—frankly, to that in America, but sometimes to the world at large.

The first Netflix question assumed that Cuarón was in conflict with Netflix's strategy: "A lot of discussion has been had about Netflix’s effort to release this film theatrically. I know you expressed disappointment and unwillingness to do that. I wonder if you can talk a little bit about what Netflix did with the rollout of this movie and if you would want to do another film with them?"

Cuarón responded: 

I am not upset with Netflix. It is not that they didn’t want to release the film, just the situation that the current market has for foreign speaking film and black and white and networking.

The fact that it is Mexican and Spanish and black and white was never even mentioned. Everything was going to the core of what this film is about.

I feel so grateful. They are amazing. They brought this film to the world. But also in the theatrical work, I have had a greater theatrical rollout than if I had gone the conventional way. This is a dream come true. It is something I wasn’t expecting.

The second Netflix question by a reporter was: "Building on the whole theatrical distribution versus Netflix, there are some independent distributors [who feel] that the success of "Roma" says this is the death of independent cinema. That basically the message that’s being sent is that a theatrical release for an awards contender is no longer needed. You just need to do a limited play with Netflix and then you go to streaming and forget all the aggravation and whether it is low grossing or not. What’s your take on this?"

Cuarón responded with a question of his own.

My question to you is: How many theaters did you think a Mexican film in black and white in Spanish and Mixtec without stars, how big a release do you think it would be in a conventional theatrical release?

I had a great bigger theatrical release than that, by the way, way bigger. Still playing. It was not a cinematic release. To this day, it opened a month ago, and it is still playing. That is rare for a foreign film. I think that is unfair to say that. Why don’t you take the foreign films released this year and compare them, see how many that are played in 70 mill. See the territories in which this film is playing. I don’t think so.

I hope the discussion between Netflix and platforms in general, theatrical should be over. I think platforms and theatrical should go together and just realize whatever they are doing with discussion, it is cinema. More important, they can create diversity in cinema. Theatrical experience has become very gentrified to one specific kind of product.

You have all these filmmakers, interesting filmmakers doing films with different platforms because those platforms are not afraid of doing those films. And like "Roma," I hope that many others will have a theatrical release and greater releases than I have. This is a foreign film in Spanish and black and white. Some other movie, some films, interested filmmakers with stars, hey, my God, next year I think is coming.

Cuarón was not angry or giving a sharp reply. He seemed a bit exasperated by the question, as if the film was being taken out of context, and he emphasized that "Roma" was a specialized film. Not only was it in a foreign language, but it was also in black and white. The movie would largely be unavailable in movie theaters due to lack of general interest in Spanish-language movies.  

Jana Monji

Jana Monji, made in San Diego, California, lost in Japan several times, has written about theater and movies for the LA Weekly, LA Times, and currently, and the Pasadena Weekly. Her short fiction has been published in the Asian American Literary Review.

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