People are quick to tell us not to take award-show snubs personally. They insist that awards are empty honors bestowed by folks who have little stake in the emotional response films evoke in their viewers. During awards season, “Stop waiting for the White man’s validation” is a common refrain in some Black circles. But that’s easier said than done when we know just how long we’ve been padding Tinseltown’s coffers with our hard-earned cash, even when we had to subject ourselves to skulking into theaters through service entrances to see films where people who looked like us were rarely featured at all.
We get so preachy with one another — talking about the importance of alternative media, of creating and supporting indie content, of appreciating the niche honors like the Independent Spirit or NAACP Image Awards, which go well out of their way to make sure diversity is celebrated. To be sure, those are important. Without them, many riveting performances by actors of color would’ve gone completely unacknowledged.
But the Hollywood Foreign Press-run Golden Globes mark the beginning of the “big time” in cinematic and small-screen honors. Debatable as their artistic merit often is, it’s absurd to write them off as meaningless to minority actors, directors and industry insiders — especially since, historically, they’ve been far less likely to receive nominations.
Reuters even reports that a Golden Globe win has an economic worth that exceeds that of an Oscar win. Post-Globes ticket sales spike to the tune of $14.2 million (as opposed to $3 million for Oscar wins). Increased sales for winning films factor into the marketability of their stars.
It may be easy for those of us keeping track at home to console ourselves with the “awards are pointless” musings, but there are measurable reasons why this matters to Ejiofor, the seasoned British veteran who’s gone so often under-awarded, or Nyong’o, whose future in Hollywood may very well be contingent on how well this season goes. It would’ve mattered to first-time director Ryan Coogler, as well, if his riveting “Fruitvale Station” had received even one Globe nomination.
In truth, audiences of color will always have an emotional, perhaps even psychic, stake in Hollywood’s awards season. According to a 2011 BET Networks Corporate Research study, Black consumers make 195 million trips to the movies annually. What we see, how we connect to it, and how that connection is acknowledged matters to us. As great as it would be to be able to ignore the import of mainstream validation, we can’t and we shouldn’t. In a year like this, when the front-running films featuring Black actors are based on real people and events, we should feel fully justified in wanting these powerful dramatizations to be revered. Award wins are one way to affirm that we’ve told our stories to someone other than ourselves, to someone who would not have otherwise known them, to someone who may have been loath to acknowledge that they happened.