Last year when Lupita Nyong’o haunting (pun not intended) yet brilliant performance in Jordan Peele’s Us was snubbed by the Golden Globes, the hashtag #GoldenGlobesSoWhite trended for a while on Twitter. In 2019, it was the revered drama When They See Us by Ava DuVernay that failed to gain a single nomination. This year, when Michaela Coel’s revolutionary show I May Destroy You met with the same fate, people were convinced that some things really never change.
I May Destroy You, the BBC-HBO drama, became a beacon of hope and strength for sexual assault survivors all over the world. The 12-part miniseries told the story of young author Arabella Essaidu, who on a night out with her friends, gets drugged and raped by one of her acquaintances. She initially doesn’t remember much, with an injury and a sense of despair making her feel that something is really wrong. When she actually starts remembering, her life turns upside down.
I May Destroy You wasn’t like any other show that dealt with sexual assault. It wasn’t a story where a woman was assaulted and she took up arms to take revenge on her rapists, like the usual trope goes. It was a very real account of how flashbacks, fear and trauma make it difficult for you to live on a day-to-day basis.
It also talked about stealthing, an act in which men take off their condoms without informing their partner. Not only is this a blatant violation of consent, and hence rape, it also increases the risk of sexually-transmitted diseases. I May Destroy You consisted of intricately woven stories which showed Intimate Partner Sexual Violence (IPSV) and how a number of sexual assaults—including tricking, manipulating and gaslighting—force people into participating in acts they did not consent to.
Stealthing and IPSV are topics that Hollywood usually doesn’t touch with a ten foot pole. It is also an industry where many powerful men who have been called out for sexual, physical and emotional, have also managed to get sympathy from a section of society due to the so-called “blurred” nature of consent.
Apart from shining the spotlight on a very important issue, the show also talks about issues of race. It is an extremely diverse show with important characters being People of Colour. It is not a show that casts one Black actor and one South Asian actor for five minutes per episode and calls itself diverse.
In the case of the 2021 Golden Globes, the acting categories under the film section saw quite a bit of BIPOC people getting nominated, including Regina Hall, the late Chadwick Boseman, Viola Davis, among others. However, the Television section (which includes web-series, mini-series and limited series as well) was a mess. Out of 45 actors who got nominated under the important acting categories in TV shows, either drama or comedy, and mini-series, only Don Cheadle, John Boyega and Ramy Yousef were BIPOC. The women who made and starred in revolutionary shows were nowhere to be seen.
Even though the situation in the Film categories are better, it doesn’t mean that it is ideal. Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods was completely shut-out. The Vietnam-war drama was a smash hit and a film-festival favourite.
One of the most striking examples of this parity based on race is the fact that they chose the Netflix show Emily in Paris as a nominee for Best TV series – musical or comedy. It was very popular, sure, but only because people watched it as a form of cringe-entertainment. It was light, senseless and frivolous. However, it was also extremely White, so we are making a guess that the Association found an ally. The nomination of Emily in Paris over I May Destroy You infuriated people online, including a writer from the Netflix series who issued a public apology to Michaela Coel via The Guardian.
As cinephiles, it is disappointing to see some of the best work in the industry get snubbed or under-appreciated. Since what’s done is done, all we can do is keep the conversation alive about these issues and hope that next year will be better.