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Backstage at the 2020 Golden Globe Awards

Beginning under sunny skies on a cool winter day, the 77th Golden Globe Awards was a balance of surprised delight and somber references to the current events. How could it be otherwise with nominated shows that took on hard topics like nuclear energy, war, rape, sexual harassment and a Hollywood cultural tragedy? Some firsts were made and victories for diversity were celebrated.

In some ways, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association set the tone by beginning the evening with all-vegan meals in the banquet room and back at the press buffet tables. There was some grumbling backstage about that, but Joaquin Phoenix praised the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and called for other awards organizations to follow.

The first award of the night was a victory for a troubled segment of the US population: Egyptian-American Ramy Youssef won Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy for "Ramy." It was the first of two awards for Hulu. Youssef is not the first Muslim to win the award; that was Aziz Ansari in 2017 for Netflix's "Master of None." He is the first North African or Egyptian American but not the first Arab American (Tony Shalhoub for "Monk" in 2002). But Youssef began by thanking God, saying "Allahu Akbar," or "God is most great," and continued in his speech to thank God and Hulu for allowing him to make "a very specific show about an Arab-Muslim family living in New Jersey" that he joked, no one in the audience had seen. Youssef also joked that his mother "was rooting for Michael Douglas" in Netflix's "The Kominsky Method." Douglas won last year for the same role.

Backstage, Youssef assured the reporters that his feelings of faith were sincere, "I’m very thankful to God and my show is about someone who believes in their faith." He continued, "It’s part of the DNA of the show. When people see the show, I think they will see that, too."

The reason the show is called "Ramy" was "because we didn’t want to call it 'Muslims.' We didn’t want to call it something that would blanket a group of a billion people. It’s really a specific story. It’s one Egyptian family in North Jersey." Yet the show has fictional elements. "A lot of the show are things I could have done in real life." Youssef further explained, "I took things that I struggled with, took them a little further than what I struggled with them and turned that into something that hopefully would just make people seem a little less lonely."

The second award of the night, which went to Russell Crowe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Limited Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television in "The Loudest Voice," brought a more somber note to the ceremonies. It had already been reported that Crowe wouldn't attend due to concerns for his property and family in Australia. Presenter Jennifer Aniston read his prepared statement: "Make no mistake, the tragedy unfolding in Australia is climate‑change‑based. We need to act based on science, move our global workforce to renewable energy, and respect our planet for the unique and amazing place it is. That way we have all a future. Thank you."

That set the tone for the evening. The next award was the first of two that HBO's "Chernobyl" would pick up, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television to Stellan Skarsgård. "Chernobyl" also won for Best Television Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television. HBO would win two other awards, both for the dramatic TV series "Succession." The first was for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Drama for Brian Cox and Best Television Series - Drama. "Succession" is a satirical look at a fictional family who owns a global media empire, Waystar Royco, with Cox playing the aging patriarch Logan Roy who has been compared to Rupert Murdoch. Although Cox denied that Roy was based on Murdoch, saying, "Logan Roy is totally our creation," he also related a funny story:

Relatively recently, I was in a cafe in Primrose Hill. If you’ve not been to London, it’s a nice place. I have an apartment there. And I was standing there ordering my latte, and someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, “We are loving your show.” And I said, “Oh, really?” He said, “Yes, yes, we really are loving it. I mean, my wife finds it a little difficult at times, but on the whole, she’s really, really enjoying it.” I said, “Oh, that’s good.” I said, “Why is your wife finding it difficult?” He said, “Well, my wife is Elisabeth Murdoch.” I said, “Oh, ah, well, yeah, I’m sorry.” He said, “No. It’s fine.” He said, “But can you go easy on her next season?” I said, “We’ll do our best.”

When Ellen DeGeneres received the Carol Burnett TV Achievement Award, presented by Kate McKinnon, we were reminded how far we've come in regards to LGBT issues, but she began with an acknowledgment of the firestorms in Australia, saying, "Before I say anything: Australia, I love you. My heart goes out to everyone who is suffering in Australia, all the animals that we’ve lost." Backstage, DeGeneres said, "So I think it sends a really powerful message to anyone out there trying to start a career and saying, 'I’m different.' You can—you can accomplish a whole lot. So, I’m—as much as I don’t seem emotional, I’m deeply moved by this. I mean, I really am." Speaking to her coming out as lesbian on television and the fallout, DeGeneres said:

I think I am really happy for every single thing that happened in my life. I am happy for the people that didn’t support me. I’m happy for the times that were the hardest times of my life because I feel like that’s what makes you. If everything is easy, you don’t really have anything to compare it to. So I’m really grateful for all of the hard times, all of the things that didn’t work out the way I wanted them to work out, and I feel bad for people that have everything working all the time because that’s just not life. Life doesn’t work that way. So, I’m just grateful for my journey and, of course, my husband Mark.

Laura Dern, the winner of this year's Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in any Motion Picture (for Netflix's "Marriage Story"), had been a special guest star on the infamous "The Puppy Episode" on "Ellen" where DeGeneres' character, Ellen Morgan, came out. In a 2007 interview featured in Southern Voice, Dern reported that she didn't work for over a year because of that episode.

Dern, who was Miss Golden Globe in 1982, said that although she was unable to talk with DeGeneres during the banquet, "her speech really moved me and I was crying," and that "was an incredible moment to be part of, one of the great moments of my life" where she was a supporting player.

Dern also sent goodwill to Australia:

I'm sending all my love as I'm here with Nicole and my beloved friend Naomi Watts and their families are very close to the fires, I'm sending so much love to Australia, and I pray, with all our day jobs, that we are also dedicating our lives to our environment and figuring out how we can save our home.

Netflix, despite having the most nominations for a television network and as a movie distributor with 17 each (HBO had 15 and Hulu only five for television; Sony had eight for distribution of movies), would leave the Golden Globes with only two awards: Olivia Colman for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Drama for playing Queen Elizabeth II on "The Crown" and Laura Dern for the movie "Marriage Story."

Renée Zellweger, who won Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama for playing Judy Garland in the biopic "Judy," also commented on Australia, saying it "breaks my heart." She noted that she had evacuated her house "five or six weeks in a row for different fires" in Malibu. "We are thinking about you, but thinking is not enough."

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who won for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy" came backstage with the team behind "Fleabag" which won the Best Television Series - Musical or Comedy (Amazon Prime Video's only two awards out of five nominations), and announced a concrete plan:

We made a plan with Ralph & Russo, who are Italian designers, who created this incredible couture suit, which is the most amazing thing I have ever worn. We are going to auction it, and the money we raise from it is going to relief to Australia.

Michelle Williams who won Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series for "Fosse/Verdon," focused on national issues of choice and a "woman's right to choose." Williams said, "So, women, 18 to 118, when it is time to vote, please do so in your own self‑interest; it's what men having been doing for years which is why the world looks so much like them," even though women are a larger voting block. "Let's make it look more like us." Backstage, she was reminded of a previous speech she made for parity for women in all professions. She explained that after that speech, people came up to her and told her how it had either helped them or made them treat their female employees differently, so tonight "I couldn't not say something else that was on my mind in the hopes that it would—in the hopes that somebody would hear it."

That's worth thinking about with all the chatter on Twitter complaining about the Golden Globe winners getting political. As one might expect, Patricia Arquette, who collected another Golden Globe for her work on "The Act," said, "I know tonight, Jan 5, 2020, we’re not going to look back on this night in the history books. We will see a country on the brink of war, the United States of America, a president tweeting out a threat of 52 bombs, including cultural sites, young people risking their lives traveling across the world, people not knowing if bombs are going to drop on their kids’ heads, and the continent of Australia on fire." She encouraged everyone to vote. Arquette had previously won a Golden Globe for "Boyhood" and "Escape at Dannemora." She had already won an Emmy for "The Act."

The big prizes went to two films that dealt with violent histories: Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood" (Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy) and "1917" (Best Motion Picture - Drama for Sam Mendes). Tarantino's film also picked up Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in any Motion Picture for Brad Pitt, and Best Screenplay - Motion Picture for Tarantino.

Tarantino said of his talks with Sharon Tate's sister, Debra, that "I wasn't trying to be exploitive and that I wanted to make her sister a character. And for too long she has not—she has been excluded as a character in her own story."

Mendes also was thinking about one particular person, and dedicated his Golden Globe to his grandfather, Alfred Hubert Mendes, who inspired this film. "He signed up for the first World War. He was age 17, and I hope he’s looking down on us, and I fervently hope it never ever happens again."

While Tom Hanks, the Cecil B. Demille Award recipient, didn't win for his portrayal of Mr. Rogers ("A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood"), Mr. Rogers' way of life was very much in the minds of many. Brad Pitt, who beat out Hanks and didn't come backstage, ended his funny acceptance speech with, "Hey, if you see a chance to be kind to someone tomorrow, take it. I think we need it."

Elton John had won a Golden Globe and an Oscar for the 1993 "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" which he wrote with Tim Rice for Disney's animated movie, "The Lion King." He was nominated again in 2003 for "The Heart of Every Girl" from the movie "Mona Lisa Smile" and again for the 2011 "Hello, Hello" which he wrote with Lady Gaga. But his win for "I'm Gonna Love Me Again" from "Rocketman" is his first Golden Globe with his long-time writing partner Bernie Taupin.

A series of firsts unfolded at the Golden Globes:

Awkafina became the first Asian American to win the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy. After noting that she was in a category with two actresses "that I worship and that I've worked with before," Awkwafina was still processing being a first, saying it was "pretty mind-blowing" but adding she had a feeling "that you want there to be more," adding, "I hope this is just the beginning."

Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir became the first woman to win an unshared Best Original Score - Motion Picture Golden Globe for her work on "Joker." Animation studio LAIKA finally won Best Animated Film for their movie "Missing Link," in a category that has been dominated by Disney and Pixar. "Parasite" became the first South Korean film to win Best Motion Picture - Foreign Language.

Through an interpreter, "Parasite" director Bong Joon-Ho said in his acceptance speech, "Once you overcome the one‑inch‑tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films."

Through an interpreter, backstage, Bong said, "So last year was the centennial of Korean cinema and we had the Korean festival and now, to mark the one year of Korean cinema, we received the Golden Globe award." He thanked his ensemble of actors and all the companies who made it possible and further noted that the popularity of his film in the US was, despite his initial surprise, inevitable "because this film is about the rich and poor and essentially about capitalism, and the U.S. is the heart of capitalism. So, I thought it was natural to gain such an explosive response. And while 'Parasite' has these political, social messages and themes, the reason why the story felt so familiar to the U.S. audience is, I think, thanks to the incredible charm that these actors have."

Another first was not visible on the stage but off-stage, the press and the stars had an all-vegan meal. Joaquin Phoenix, who won Best Actor in a dramatic movie was tired of being asked the same questions, asking, "Isn't this old news?" Yet when asked, "What did it mean to you they went vegan for tonight?", Phoenix replied:

It was the first time I've ever eaten food at this ceremony. I thought it was excellent. I was so moved by the decision to make tonight plant-based. It was such an important step. The SAG awards and Critics' Choice awards, the Governors Ball and whatever else there is needs to do it as well. That is a very important statement. And agriculture is the third leading cause of climate change. It uses 70 percent of the water. It pollutes the most water. The statistics are staggering ... And so I think that it was terribly brave and compassionate of HFPA to make that bold decision. I really commend them for that. I've never been so proud to attend an awards ceremony as I am tonight.


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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