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Golden Globes: Big Wins Reflect Progress in Diversity on Film, TV

Sunday’s Golden Globe telecast became a glossy showcase for Hollywood’s new focus bringing diverse voices and fresh perspectives to film and TV screens.

Globes voters nominated a record number of actors and producers of color this time around. The night’s big film prize went to “Moonlight,” the coming-of-age story of a gay black youth in Miami. FX’s “Atlantawas recognized for comedy series and comedy actor for series auteur Donald Glover. Also taking top acting prizes were Tracee Ellis Ross, for ABC’s “Black-ish,” and Viola Davis for Paramount’s “Fences,” based on the August Wilson play. And FX’s “The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” which revisited one of the most racially divisive crimes of the 20th century, prevailed for limited series.

There was no escaping the sense of disconnect in breakthrough wins for actors and auteurs such as Glover coming in the wake of Donald Trump’s upset win in the presidential election, supported in large part by white rural voters. Ellis and Davis were pressed on the question of whether artists have an extra responsibility to stand up to what many fear will be polarizing rhetoric and policies coming from the Trump administration.

Winners emphasized the role of arts and storytelling in driving the cultural conversation about difficult issues, such as police brutality, and inspiring others to tell stories that wouldn’t in the past have been seen as mainstream entertainment fodder.

“We have to keep telling these stories very truthfully and honestly,” said “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins. “From day one on the set it was about making a universal film and trying to speak truth to power.”

“People v. O.J. Simpson” cast members and producers said they have been deeply touched by the impact that the limited series had in spurring viewers to think about how race relations have evolved, or not, during the past two decades since the Simpson verdict.

“The show is more relevant that it should be,” said actor Sterling K. Brown, who played prosecutor Christopher Darden. “You would think in 20 years time there would be more progress. What happened back then is what’s happening now. There’s a lot of ocular proof of police misconduct. An institution that is supposed to protect and serve — a lot of people don’t always feel protected and served.”

Davis said the question of race, diversity, and inclusion in American culture is a tough issue that extends well beyond political concerns about Trump.

“It is our responsibility to uphold what it is to be an American, what America is about and what it means to pursue the American dream,” Davis said. “There is no way we can have anyone in office that is not an extension of our own belief system. So what does that say about us? If you answer that question, that says it all.”

Davis in 2015 notched a TV milestone by becoming the first African-American to win best drama actress, for ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder.”

Ross’ win marked the first for an African-American actress in the category since 1983, when Debbie Allen was recognized for “Fame.” At last year’s Emmy Awards, Ross was the first to be nommed in the comedy actress category in 30 years. Those numbers illuminate the stubborn lack of movement for actors of color. But Sunday’s wins demonstrate that the expansion of outlets and hunger for original series material is spreading the wealth.

“This nomination was really exciting to me,” Ross said. “To see the industry look outside of where they usually look was very special to me and important… Our industry can really be in the forefront of (ensuring) that a diversity of stories are told — not just for people of color but of all different shapes and sizes. The stories we tell and how we celebrate those stories represent the humanity we all live in.”

Atlanta” made an immediate impact in the creative community as a forceful work that pushes the boundaries of storytelling in TV’s half-hour series format. The show has been hailed throughout the creative community for examining what it means to be a young African-American in contemporary America through Glover’s distinct POV. It’s also been a commercial success for FX.

The multi-hyphenate — who is also a successful hip-hop musician under the name Childish Gambino — told reporters backstage he has been honing the idea for “Atlanta” for years.

“I just kind of Trojan Horse-d it,” Glover said when asked if the show was a hard sell to FX. “I told FX it was something that it wasn’t until it got there (creatively).”

Glover said he recently found a letter that he wrote to his brother, “Atlanta” writer Stephen Glover, about his dream that they would one day write a TV show together that would reflect the real Atlanta.

When all was said and done, Glover said the only thing that mattered to him was that it passed muster as authentic with his friends and cohorts in the Peach State. Jenkins echoed that sentiment when it came to making sure “Moonlight” retained its Miami setting.

Glover offered his experience in birthing “Atlanta” as an example to others as a means of promoting understanding among people from different walks of life.

“I truly do believe in magic and dreams,” he said. “You got to believe in human magic.”

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