The Golden Globes: Hollywood Adjusts to Life in Trump’s America

Meryl Streep Golden Globes
Michael Buckner/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

'La La Land' swept the night, but the mood in the room was far from lighthearted

Last night’s telecast of the Golden Globes were defined not by glitz, glamour, or even the mysterious non-movie “Hidden Fences,” but instead by a pervasive feeling of discomfort. The anxiety around the first few minutes of the live telecast never quite faded away, as presenter Jimmy Fallon failed to find a rhythm and the direction was so sloppy it read amateur. The host, who has incurred derision from all sides for his naive treatment of Donald Trump in the 2016 election, began the opening monologue with a joke about Trump losing the popular vote. It wasn’t quite clear if he wanted to be making jokes about Trump or simply felt like he had to, but either way, his delivery was tentative and half-hearted. And as the Hollywood Foreign Press’ choices for the winners started to spool out, the anticlimax of the choices — especially on the film side, where “La La Land” swept with seven Globes — made for a tentative, half-hearted evening.

You could call it opening-night jitters. Even for these seasoned veterans of show business, there’s a new kind of stage to walk out onto now. After all, Sunday night’s awards show was not just about honoring the best of film and television, but also the beginnings of how Hollywood will face the new political establishment — an establishment now headed by longtime Hollywood wannabe Trump, the nation’s president-elect.

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Hollywood has aligned itself against or at least in conversation with the political establishment before, styling itself as a liberal bastion of enlightened race relations and truth-telling progressivism. But Trump’s rise to power is different from even the most questionable conservative candidates of the last few decades — a rumbling at the foundations of our public sphere. Furthermore, in the last few years, Hollywood — again, especially on the film side — has found itself to be a maligned symbol of the establishment, in terms of its limited representation when it comes to both race and class.

Hollywood’s elite had reacted, in an era of institutional liberalism under President Barack Obama, by becoming guarded and defensive, both a little self-questioning and a lot more self-satisfied. It is no accident that the films that have done best at awards shows over the last few years are films about Hollywood’s relationship to itself — “The Artist,” “Birdman,” “Hugo,” and now, “La La Land.” It’s understandable. This is a group of people who makes, or tries to make, a lot of money out of the creative process — and then struggles with the way their art is digested by the audience and made into the world around them.

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But last night, it didn’t feel like enough. “La La Land” is a good film, but it does not tell us anything about Trump’s America. By the end of the film’s sweep, it was beginning to feel less like a flight of fancy and more like an albatross. Trump — a media candidate if there ever was one — comes from something about Hollywood. Which might be why it felt that underneath the night’s frustration and disappointment with politics was a frisson of fear. Trump rode a wave of anti-establishment anger to the White House in an election that disorients and disrupts some of the most fundamental underpinnings of what has been widely assumed to be the American political process. What can moving pictures and making faces on-screen say to a population so disenchanted?

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The depicted answers to that question varied quite a bit. In the camp of “I studied abroad once” was the very well-intentioned Tom Hiddleston, who won best actor in a limited series for “The Night Manager.” In his acceptance speech, he pivoted earnestly but awkwardly to a story of children in South Sudan that ended, lamely, with the revelation that the children’s doctors had binged his show. Hugh Laurie, who also won an acting award for “The Night Manager,” opted for dark humor — drily commenting that the night’s awards would be the final Golden Globes ever. Isabelle Huppert, accepting best actress for “Elle,” ended her speech with a line that addressed the political mood of the evening: “Do not expect cinema to put up walls and borders.” (The line, which is lovely, was obscured by Huppert being played off the stage.) On the lighter side, Sofia Vergara, clad in a very revealing Zuhair Murad gown, did a presenting bit where she misread “annual” as first “anal” and then “anus,” laying on the thick accent that she plays up for laughs. And Fallon, at one juncture, introduced Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne, and then segued into a fake-rapping bit where he rhymed using their last names as perennial hype man Questlove provided accompaniment. Chastain and Redmayne almost cringed away from the performance as they walked to the microphone.

Here it is: the discomfort. Sincerity was either too dark or too saccharine; distraction felt blind to context or without substance. The Globes are typically the industry’s least serious awards show, defined by spectacle more than substance. But perhaps 2017 is too murky for Hollywood’s typical celebrations. On one hand, the art of film and television is one of entertainment — of distraction and technique, spectacle and laughter. On the other hand, it is a medium with goals so lofty and fragile that to say them aloud is to watch them disappear — understanding, connection, equality, hope. Awards shows live in the unholy overlap of these two goals — an attempt to make good and do good at the same time — which might be the primary reason that they are simultaneously awful and transfixing to watch.

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It fell to the grande dame of Hollywood to deliver the night’s state of the union. The finest moment of the evening was the segment where Meryl Streep accepted the Cecil B. DeMille award for lifetime achievement from presenter Viola Davis. For once, it was the speech — the pair of speeches — that really elevated the evening from merely an expression of Hollywood’s collective ego to a larger meditation on why the industry does what it does. (Say what you will about Trump, but he sure does inspire self-reflection in angsty liberals.)

Streep — both as an acting icon and as the one at the party winning a lifetime achievement award — had a unique opportunity to say something profound. And what she did say — which appeared to unfold to hushed, pin-drop silence in the International Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton — directly addressed the discomfort of the night, smoothing over the blunt preachiness of other sincere efforts and finding the core seed of empathy and communication that is at the heart of entertainment. Because Streep is herself — and represents in some ways the best impulses of Hollywood, if not always the best decisions — it was also delivered with an effortless, rapturous grace. As someone who has watched so many of her performances on film, it was possible to see the fount of emotion where so many of her performances emerge from. And though it is very possible to question some of Streep’s language — Ohio somehow got grouped in with “foreigners,” a room full of millionaires became a stand-in for the disenfranchised, and the phrase “mixed-martial arts” snuck into the speech somehow — it was hard not to see how thoroughly she cared, how deeply she felt the need to speak out. Streep’s earnest feeling was the most electric moment of the night, because of how powerfully she could communicate that she wanted the world to be a better place.

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  1. Michele Brown says:

    In trying to be a smart ass!!old HAgg Merly Streep totally bash Hollywood by saying MMA and Football IS NoT Art and how violence perpetuates violence! Well Ms. Streep your kind of movies that you make,make up 5-10% of the other movies that Hollywood make; filled/ laced with sex, foul language /violence. So the God Father, Scarface, and The Revenant and countless others- is not ART. ***?i will not be watching anymore of your movies ****!!! U and others who share in your opinion need to take your limos out to the states that trump flipped. Needless to say, you will not cause you really don’t care how others are being affected; simply economics- if we don’t have money guess what happens to Hollywood movies ,cable and your pocketbook!!!

  2. christinelynn101 says:

    The more the libs bash Trump the more popular and stronger he becomes! You just keep trash talking half the country and watch him win another 4 ears. Easy solution to get rid of these arrogant stars…don’t go to anymore of their movies and they will one by one disappear. She should have graciously said thank you to those who came to drool over her with an award for her lifetime achievement of being paid a lot of money pretending to be other people and then exit stage left. Instead, of being remembered for her award she will now be remembered as a sour grape. We don’t need you Hollywood snobs lecturing us about your ill-informed opinions of the up and coming president of the United States. You are paid monkeys to entertain us. If you think you are so much better then Trump then do what he did, spend your own money and run for office! You guys lost now live with it. Sour Grapes, Ha!

  3. BillUSA says:

    They have no idea of what adjustment means. They’re filthy rich and can live anywhere they want to. No adjustment necessary. With their money, you’d never hear a peep out of me. I’d be too busy enjoying life and ACTUALLY helping people.

    • cadavra says:

      Since you clearly know nothing about show business, let me attempt to explain to you how things work in reality.

      The people in that room are the exceptions, not the rule. There are about 160,000 people in SAG-AFTRA, and 90% of them are chronically unemployed. Even those who have other jobs often struggle to pay the rent. (And that doesn’t include all the performers who aren’t even in SAG, and thus work even less.)

      And then there are the literally hundreds of thousands of crew and craftsmen who also seldom work, and when they do get a precious job, it’s long hours and not much money. You know how many millionaire assistant cameramen and costumers and sound editors and key grips there are? I’ll tell you: Exactly zero.

      And we shouldn’t forget those people in offices, laundries, kitchens, print shops, etc., all working 14-hour days in marketing, distribution and the other countless arenas that are a sizable part of the entertainment industry.

      And since I’m sure it isn’t obvious to you by now, if it weren’t for that handful of stars and directors and producers in that room, NONE of these people would be working at all. But they stay with it, because they love their professions and the happiness they bring to everyone.

      So next time you feel like spouting off about the “filthy rich” Hollywood elitists, do the world a favor and keep your ignorant yap shut.

  4. SPIKE says:

    the reporter calls Trump a Hollywood wannabe? I think this reporter is a Hollywood wannabe who has failed himself right into a spectator job, instead of a creative career. too bad. I feel sorry for you.

  5. The Truth says:

    Fallon’s rap was a spoof on Cypress Hill’s major hip hop hit “Insane In The Membrane.” Equating that with “Chastain and the Redmayne” was actually quite funny, but too hip for the room and apparently for Variety as well.

  6. Bill B. says:

    Correct. Streep was the moment of the night. Beautifully spoken, eloquent, deeply concerned, smart and moving. I’ve always greatly admired her as the greatest overall actress I’ve ever seen. I admire her even more now for additional reasons.

  7. Fleurdamour says:

    Please tell me why a film that’s been in development for six years is required to “speak to Trump’s America” in order to justify winning awards.

  8. Silent Velcro says:

    Note to Hollywood, et al: Every time you utter his name, you reinforce his “brand”, he gets stronger, and he wins.

  9. Mark says:

    “It wasn’t quite clear if he wanted to be making jokes about Trump or simply felt like he had to, but either way, his delivery was tentative and half-hearted.” – He was trying to recover from a teleprompter fail.

  10. Lloyd Curley says:

    I do think that the Hollywood establishment needs to watch its steps as there was a sizeable vote that enable Trump to win the electoral college as it risks alienating a large portion of the box office by being too political. After all is said and done, the middle class of America feels that the progressive liberals are only interested in their pocketbooks and cares very little for the well being of the working people. Get off your preaching and help make America great again.

  11. mcg says:

    Awards shows have been used as platforms for actors to speak out to a larger audience almost since their inception. There is nothing wrong with that. There is a lot of pain and genuine concern within and outside the Hollywood community, within citizens and red states and in blue states, and with those who did and did not vote. Here is what I hope from this day forward: the President Elect and his camp, family, Cabinet appointees, and the majorities in both Houses, all those who will directly or indirectly have control over the future of the country and the world, will do the following:

    Focus on what truly matters to all Americans. If the President Elect must tweet, first and foremost, say in roughly 149 characters: “I can and will do better, I hear you, all of you, and will be President for everyone.” Secondly: “I will set aside my personal feelings, have a measured response and solely to the things that really matter, and do right by everyone.”

  12. ivar743 says:

    What a biased, smug misrepresentation of “Hollywood” ( whatever that is). With phrases referring to the “institutional liberalism” it evinced during the Obama administration, the mistaking a celebration for “self-satisfaction”, and its ungrammatical, awkward attempts at cultural analysis, we can see the emergence of Trump apologist journalism. It is a review of an event filtered through the prism of her barely hidden resentment of the film industry.

  13. Fallon has long been a sketch-artist and not really a variety show host or interviewer. Days are probably counting down for Corden to take over Colbert’s slot and it will then be really interesting for late night.

  14. James says:

    WOW, what an incredibly ridiculous article -/ thank you for giving more ammunition for Trump supporters and for trying to make this night different from what we saw.

  15. Carol Price says:

    Sorry Streep… you just lost my “best actress” vote!

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