Award Winning – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A New Brand of Tea Leaves?: The 2015 Emmy Awards Mon, 21 Sep 2015 04:23:07 +0000 Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 12.20.58 AMPredicting the Emmy Awards is a fool’s errand, even in the grand scheme of the fallibility of award predictions: whereas the Oscars have precursor awards (primarily the Guilds) with voting base overlap, the Emmys have no such preview, leaving experts to effectively read tea leaves.

However, this year came with a new brand of tea leaves, brought on by a significant change: whereas past years have seen winners determined by a limited blue-ribbon panel of voters in a given peer group, this year the voting was opened up to all members of said groups, meaning the voting pool increased exponentially. Reporting speculated that this could dramatically alter the winners, skewing toward populist series and diminishing the impact of the episode submissions that were typically considered crucial variables in the blue-ribbon panels’ decisions.

Accordingly, this year’s predictions narrative had more weight than usual, pushing those who were following the story to see each early win as a marker of a given narrative. And it didn’t take long for such a narrative to emerge, even if I joked about it being premature when I called it early on: HBO swept through the broadcast like the behemoth it once was, laying waste to numerous records in the process. Game of Thrones shattered the record for most wins by a series in a single year well before it won for Outstanding Drama Series, and Veep won three awards—including the fourth consecutive win for Julia Louis-Dreyfus and second for Tony Hale—before it emerged to dethrone Modern Family and take HBO’s second-ever win for Outstanding Comedy Series. Combine with Olive Kitteridge’s near-sweep of the Limited Series category—losing only Supporting Actress—and you have the most dominant performance for a single channel or network in recent Emmys history. It’s the first time that a single channel has taken home the TV Movie (Bessie), Limited Series (or Miniseries), Drama, and Comedy awards in the same year since the TV Movie category was added in 1980.

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 12.21.52 AMThere are a large number of conclusions we could make based on this. We could discuss how the opening up of the voting pool privileged a show like Game of Thrones that has both large viewership and strength in the creative arts categories whose voters were previously unlikely to vote in the program awards. We might ask if the accessibility of HBO programming—both through elaborate screener DVD boxes sent to voters and through the ease of HBO Go/HBO Now—makes it more likely that voters have seen shows on the channel, versus some of the competition. We can ponder how the potential dilution of submitted episodes’ importance to the process privileged past winners and nominees with whom voters were familiar (thus giving Veep an advantage over newcomer Transparent, which won Lead Actor and Directing Emmys for Amazon Studios).

And yet here’s the thing about awards: we’ll never know. Although the social media consensus on my feed seems to be that Game of Thrones would have been more deserving in earlier seasons, or that Transparent was breaking more ground in comedy than Veep’s political satire, there’s every possibility Emmy voters felt Game of Thrones had its strongest year yet and Transparent was a drama masquerading as a comedy and dragged down by Maura’s unlikeable children. It becomes easy to forget in efforts to “solve” the Emmy voting process by turning it into an objective process that it is an inherently subjective one. And while I am an advocate for contextualizing the specific subjectivities that shape each year’s winners lest we accept the prestige they’ve come to represent as an asterisk-free marker of television greatness, this year’s awards reminded me and everyone else who follows the Emmys too closely that there will never be evidence to support any of our conclusions. We will never know exactly why a given series or performer or writer or director won an Emmy award. It is beyond our reach.

And yet lest the above read as an outright rejection of Emmys narratives, this was nonetheless a night that reinforced how the swirling subjectivity of industry awards can transform such that objective consensus emerges. Fitting given the night’s controversial spoiler-laden montage of series finales—which would’ve been harmless with fewer climactic moments chosen in editing—this was a night where two actors had their last chance to win an Emmy for a role that will define their career. And whereas Parks and Recreation’s Amy Poehler had her chance swept away by the HBO tide, Mad Men’s Jon Hamm emerged victorious, winning his first Emmy—and the first acting Emmy for any actor on the AMC series, inconceivably—and earning a standing ovation in the process.

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 12.20.32 AMTechnically, that win inspires just as many questions. Had the tape system and limited voting pools held an often-reprehensible character back in previous years? Did all those HBO-happy voters feel about The Newsroom the way I felt about The Newsroom? And yet those questions don’t matter as much when the victory feels just, as was also the case when Viola Davis—the clear standout of the uneven How To Get Away With Murder—took to the stage after winning Lead Actress in a Drama Series and spoke eloquently and righteously about the struggle facing actresses of color when you don’t see people like you standing on that stage winning Emmys. It doesn’t matter if this new voting system was responsible for Davis’ win, because it was both a deserving performance—although there’s that subjectivity again—and because it represents a small step toward addressing the Academy’s longstanding struggle with diversity.

You could argue that “it doesn’t matter” describes the whole evening, and not just the various procedures that preceded it: it is very possible to overstate the importance of the Emmy Awards, as HBO publicity will helpfully—if deservedly—demonstrate over the next 24-72 hours. But Davis’ win stands out as an example of an Emmys moment that unquestionably matters, and pushes a deeper consideration into not simply who wins Emmys, but how they win them, and how that remains an area where greater work in diversity and representation can and should be explored by the Television Academy. And perhaps here we can make a distinction, then: it may be impossible to safely predict the Emmys, but it’s very possible to investigate that process with a critical eye, one that hopefully with move beyond procedures to the politics that underlie them in the years that follow.


And the Grammy Nominees are [On Twitter]… Fri, 05 Dec 2014 21:24:13 +0000 Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 3.12.45 PM

As viewing patterns have shifted dramatically over the past two decades, fragmenting audiences and delaying viewing in what we characterize as a post-network era, the televised award show has increased in value for broadcast networks. Live events work against delays, provide the possibility for social media buzz, and speak to a presumed broad audience that is becoming increasingly more difficult to capture with traditional programming. This has made the relative value of award shows increase, both for major awards (the Oscars, the Emmys, the Grammys) in respective media and lesser award shows that now have greater value than when they were perceived as illegitimate offshoots of the more reputable awards in said medium (such as the American Music Awards and the Billboard Music Awards, which are based on fan voting and record sales respectively).

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 3.15.48 PMOutside of isolated moments like Ellen Degeneres’ “Oscar Selfie,” however, major award shows in film and television have not necessarily changed their approach in light of their new value in a convergent media era, remaining largely the same in terms of flow and structure. By comparison, the Grammy Awards have gone through a tremendous overhaul, dramatically altering the number of awards presented during the televised ceremony, and shifting to a more substantial number of performances. While the presence of performances has always been a key draw for the Grammy Awards, the increase in the number of performances—going from 8 in 2004 to 20 in 2014—has shifted the ceremony further toward the live event spectacle that cuts through the challenges of broadcast television so effectively in the current moment. CBS has even built on its success with a yearly concert special timed to the Grammy nominations in December, announcing the nominees for “Album of the Year” and other major categories as part of a concert “preview”—this year with a holiday theme—of the January or February ceremony before releasing the full list.

If the changes to the Grammy ceremony itself reflect shifts in audience viewing patterns within traditional media, the strategy the Recording Academy is using to reveal this year’s nominees represents a more dramatic move away from traditional media. The release of award nominations has historically been handled through early-morning press conferences, wherein professionals within the respective field teams up with the Academy president to reveal major nominations ahead of the release of the full list of nominees shortly after. These take place at roughly 5:30am in Los Angeles, a time chosen in order to coordinate with the morning shows on the East Coast, with the nominations typically simulcast by one or more of them. It is an old tradition that has adjusted to include livestreaming, and that the Grammys has shifted to Primetime in recent years, but it remains predominantly tethered to an old media stalwart.

This year, however, the Recording Academy partnered with Twitter to reveal the majority of the nominees for this year’s awards one-by-one over the course of the day: although anchored by nominees Ed Sheeran and Pharrell on CBS This Morning and the Album of the Year reveal on the CBS nominations special, therefore retaining a tie to traditional broadcast environments, the partnership with Twitter is where the vast majority of discourse around the awards circulated today. Whereas all award shows are now actively engaged in social media, tweeting congratulations to nominees in hopes of retweets and further follows, the Grammys are not simply tweeting the nominees from their own account (which has 1.7 million followers): instead, they have parceled out the categories among a number of former winners or contemporaries in respective categories (Vampire Weekend, Joy Williams, Mark Ronson), prominent YouTube stars with musical aspirations and strong social media followings (Troye Silvan), syndicated entertainment shows or personalities (Ryan Seacrest, Access Hollywood, The Insider), and perennial Grammys host LL Cool J, among others—I’ve collected a Storify of most of them here. With most using the integrated video function on Twitter, and with each video including a plug for the Emmy Award ceremony on CBS in February, the videos serve to make the nominations themselves visible to a broader audience, suggesting a careful curation of “presenters” and potential audiences across various genres.

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 3.03.27 PMIt’s a decision that has confounded the traditional way nominations are covered in the entertainment industry: whereas journalists can typically speak to narratives in the awards, sites are now forced to gradually collect and collate information, building narratives—who has the most nominations, who was snubbed in certain categories—on the fly with only limited perspective until the majority of nominees (all but album of the year) were finally posted around 2pm ET. Beyoncé’s single announced nomination early in the day allowed her to pass Dolly Parton to become the most nominated female artist of all time, but anyone who ran that story needed to update it to reflect her final nomination count, which will remain unclear until tonight’s broadcast. Sam Smith tweeted about earning four nominations before getting out of bed, but that number increased shortly after, necessitating another message updating the number to five.

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 3.08.38 PMThe presence of social media has privileged live events because they are something people “talk about,” and have the potential to spread beyond their initial viewing audience as online buzz pushes people to tune in. In this case, the Grammys are tapping into the same potential for social media to spread word about the nominations, creating an environment where it is impossible for anyone engaged with entertainment journalists or musicians on Twitter to avoid Grammys reporting over the course of the day as artists and outlets livetweet their reactions to the nominations rollout. Whereas “Oscar Nominations Morning” has become a tradition in the context of social media, with Twitter and other social media conversations focused on what is considered a major industry event, the Grammys have sought to claim an entire day, an effort that shows how the adoption of social media is influencing established spaces of industry practice.

It is also an additional reminder that while who wins or is nominated for awards remains a key space of analysis for engaging with the place of awards in media industries and in culture more broadly, the process by which those nominees are determined or announced is equally central to the award show’s place within contemporary media studies.


Choose Your Own Narrative: The 2014 Emmy Awards Tue, 26 Aug 2014 05:33:09 +0000 WoodyMatthewWhen Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson took to the stage to present this year’s Emmy Award for Lead Actor in a TV Movie or Miniseries, Harrelson cracked a joke about McConaughey having all of the “plagiarized” lines in True Detective.

The lack of crowd response led Harrelson to dub it “too much of an inside joke,” but it was far from the only joke that seemed designed for those who spend their waking hours scouring industry trade press (or, to put a finer point on it, for me). I got the joke, and a good portion of my self-selected Twitter feed got the joke, and I even got the subtextual joke of McConaughey and Harrelson presenting the award many expected they’d be competing for until True Detective switched categories. However, one imagines the presumed mass audience of television viewers tuning into this year’s ceremony had no idea what Harrelson was referring to, just as they were confused by Seth Meyers’ jokes about Orange is the New Black’s category switching, or by Julianna Margulies’ pointed “22 episodes a year” reference in her acceptance speech, or by the words “Tatiana Maslany” in the Billy on the Street pre-taped segment.

The internal politics of the Emmy Awards are a rich discursive space, one that plays out each year in the nominating process, the nominations, and then the broadcast itself. Months of trade publication ad campaigns, Gold Derby Google Hangouts, and talk show appearances all converge in a single evening, and for those who follow that narrative it becomes a game of seeing whose submission tape won over the voters and how a show’s win in one category could signal a win in a different category later in the show. As one of those people, the Emmys broadcast is a dynamic experience, a vessel within which existing television industry narratives—the rise of Netflix, the miniseries/limited series debate, the “dramedy” problem—are highlighted, complicated, and narrativized. Although who wins may not actually “matter,” it is nonetheless part of the process by which the television industry understands itself, and thus a piece in the puzzle of how we understand the television industry.

However, the Emmys rarely present themselves in this way: instead, they are a celebration of television, heralding the greatness of the medium in this golden era. But this year’s ceremony made no effort to narrativize the year in television beyond a brief opening countdown and a Weird Al Yankovic theme song parody medley, even eschewing the typical tributes to each genre as the ceremony moves from section to section. The show’s lack of flow—including the In Memoriam beginning with no introduction—left no room for any attempt to make it all mean something more than a collection of subjective evaluations of television quality mixed in with jokes for people who read Deadline, a choice that made the awards feel remarkably niche despite the fact that broadcast series performed surprisingly well, in opposition to Meyers’ monologue joke about cable and Netflix’s dominance.

SofiaSpinningThe lack of an effort to hail a more mainstream audience was particularly confusing when Television Academy president Bruce Rosenblum emerged for his speech about the state of the medium of television, the one moment in the show dedicated to the kind of self-narrativizing we’re used to seeing in other elements of the broadcast. However, Rosenblum delivered his speech as Sofia Vergara stood on a rotating platform as eye candy to distract us from this typical, “boring” award show ritual. The objectification of the bit was concerning, particularly given Rosenblum’s specific comments regarding the increased diversity of the Academy mashed up with Vergara’s “This is what it’s like in America” banter, but it was also puzzling given that the rest of the broadcast seemed designed for an audience tuned into the industrial logics surrounding multi-platform viewing.

The narrative of any given award show has always been discursive, determined by the winners and how those winners are spun by the press: you could sense the headlines changing as the night went on, with Modern Family and Breaking Bad’s continued success drowning out the possible “Rise of Netflix” or “Movie Stars on TV” narratives that were carried into the ceremony. The latter offered the broadcast’s most concentrated reference point, although one that was more reinforced by Jimmy Kimmel’s brief hosting takeover, Comedy Directing winner Gail Mancuso’s eye contact with McConaughey during her acceptance speech, and Julia Roberts’ inflection during her presenting gig than by any element of the production itself. In the absence of a production-sponsored narrative, narratives sprung from other elements of the evening, diving further into inside baseball territory as the night wore on.

It also, at least in my experience, amplified the role of social media in shaping these narratives. As following award shows on Twitter becomes a more accepted—if not necessarily mainstream—practice, it becomes a subsequent space through which award show broadcasts are translated. What would have historically been post-show overviews by trade press or major newspapers becomes color commentary and factual details that work in real time to transform the chaos of subjectivity into disappointment, excitement, surprise, or any other narrative imaginable. And when the broadcast itself is making minimal effort to contribute to that narrative itself or pull it away from the specifics of winners and losers, social media emerges to fill the gap for those choosing to view the show in a connected setting.

There is an argument to be made for an understated Emmys broadcast, especially given it came in at exactly three hours, but it creates a vacuum of meaning that needs to be explored further. While this results in some broad pro/con narratives in the context of the popular press, it also reminds us of the Academy’s disinterest in highlighting issues of race or gender in the context of their broadcast, and pushes us to continue exploring the identity politics—or lack thereof—of award shows that in their absence of narrative invites us to construct our own based on their disparate component parts and the filters through which we engage with them.


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MTV Shows Its Seams Mon, 25 Aug 2014 18:56:49 +0000 Beyonce VMAs

Early into last night’s MTV Video Music Awards, which was held at the Forum following a massive renovation project for the Inglewood venue, No Doubt front woman Gwen Stefani presented the ceremony’s first award, “Best Female Video” with rapper Snoop Dogg. Of her he said “‘you’re not just a girl,’ you’re L.A.’s finest girl.” Of him she said, “‘Inglewood up to no good.’ I remember the first time [Dr.] Dre unleashed you onto the world and I heard that song.” Stefani actually quoted a Tupac line (sloppy writing), yet the pairing nodded to a 90s revival that the channel helped facilitate. Over the summer, Nicki Minaj sampled Sir Mix-A-Lot, Meghan Trainor channeled Sublime’s Bradley Nowell, Ariana Grande conjured Mariah Carey, Lorde revised girl power, Five Seconds of Summer closed the gap between boy bands and emo, and the cable channel rebooted House of Style with Iggy Azalea, who dressed as Cher Horowitz for her mainstream debut.

MTV dropped “music television” from its logo back in 2010, but hagiography continues to be a big part of the brand. The ceremony’s red carpet coverage prioritized Amber Rose’s sartorial tribute to the “naked” dress Rose McGowan wore to the 1998 ceremony and reclaimed Katy Perry and Riff Raff’s Britney-and-Justin denim ensemble from the 2001 AMAs as a VMA moment. Female empowerment emerged as a dominant narrative for last night’s ceremony. The show set this agenda early in the broadcast by giving out “Best Female Video” first, a point co-presenter Stefani emphasized by stating “this year, the ladies are taking over.” But astute viewers remember that Madonna gave herself away at the ceremony’s first performance in 1984, in the process setting a standard for broadcast-friendly performances of women’s sexualized self-exploitation for generations.

However, it makes sense that Stefani presented the night’s first award to Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse,” which relied upon a trap beat, a culturally insensitive video, and Juicy J for mainstream success. The Material Girl created a template for the music industry’s blonde ambition, particularly its twin impulses to objectify and appropriate for professional gain. But Madonna studied genre at a time when coherent album-length statements still mattered. She was a confessional balladeer one minute, Breathless Mahoney the next. Stefani layered generic signifiers during the time of singles’ resurgence, approaching genre through the lens of hybridity. In 2002, Gayle Wald summarized the consequence of Stefani’s influence thusly: “In focusing attention on gender performance as a privileged site and source of political oppositionality . . . critical questions of national, cultural, and racial appropriation can be made to disappear under the sign of transgressive gender performance” (194-195). As a result, Stefani’s reckless play with signifiers as a result of her white female privilege helped advance the “post” approach to feminism, race, genre, and identity that many contemporary female pop stars continue to follow. Why not reverse engineer a KROQ playlist from rap, reggae, trip-hop, new wave, and industrial’s disparate formal elements for “Hella Good” and “Hollaback Girl”? Why not set off baggy jeans and a retro up-do with a bindhi while you’re at it?

Yet the VMAs seemed to demur from racial controversy. Perhaps MTV is still reeling from Miley Cyrus’ apocalyptic minstrelsy. Perhaps it’s because, as Common’s moment of silence for Mike Brown suggested, the stakes are too high. But it was a messy year for the VMAs. The night’s dominant narrative might have been “girls rule,” as women took home ten of the ceremony’s 16 awards. But the victories weren’t won without a few split seams which drew attention to how the rhetoric of female empowerment relies upon the unstable relationship between unruliness and restraint. Nicki Minaj had a wardrobe malfunction during the ceremony’s opening medley because she wasn’t given enough time to change. Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande struggled with their songs’ vocal demands. Lorde didn’t know what camera to address during her acceptance speech for Best Rock Video. Cyrus ceded her acceptance speech for Video of the Year to a young man who spoke as an advocate for homeless youth. Beyoncé concluded the night with a brief acceptance speech for the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard award as an afterthought to her sixteen-minute medley performance.

Historically, the Video Vanguard award includes a montage that reinforces the recipient’s innovative contributions to the medium. Last night, the segment included no videos from either Destiny’s Child or Beyoncé’s solo career. This absence seemed strange, not only because her surprise fifth album provided corresponding videos for each song, but because Beyoncé was a throwback to blockbuster major label releases from videogenic stars like Madonna and Jackson. This indicates MTV’s programming decision to hand music videos over, first to MTV2 and then to YouTube. It gestures to award shows’ prioritization of live musical performance that can easily be digested into GIFs, #hashtags, and clickbait. It also doubled as a preview for On the Run, her concert film with Jay-Z that will premiere on HBO next month.

Beyoncé’s closing medley was the night’s rare polished performance. It began with a cryptic non-address to those divorce rumors, ended with the singer in an embrace with her family, and went off ***flawlessly. It demonstrated Beyoncé’s industrial power; even MTV couldn’t shake her. It made me wonder what future generations of female performers will learn from her when they reach for the Moon Man. Perhaps they would demand perfection of their stage performances. It also made me imagine what the broadcast would be like if more of Swift and Lorde’s conspiratorial attitude as friends and fellow nominees made it into the ceremony. We’re getting closer with collaborations from Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora, as well as Minaj, Grande, and Jessie J. But “Bang Bang” was so rushed that Minaj distractedly muttered her verse while holding her dress together. Minaj helped breathe new life into “Flawless” this summer. The stage, like feminism, is big enough for Beyoncé to share with her too.


Category Agnostic: The 2014 Emmy Nominations Thu, 10 Jul 2014 14:33:11 +0000 OITNB Emmy CoverBruce Rosenblum wanted this year’s Emmy nominations to be about how the Television Academy sits at the foreground of the television future. His suggestion during his opening remarks that “quality television is now platform agnostic” goes even further than previous remarks seeking to acknowledge the rise of Netflix and other streaming competitors. And while the arrival of Orange Is The New Black—competing with its first season a month after its second debuted on Netflix—means Netflix is a bigger story this year than last, platforms are not the story at this year’s Emmy nominations.

Agnosticism is, however. This year’s Emmy nominations demonstrate that notions of television quality are category agnostic, in that the same performers or series are likely to garner nominations even if they show up in a fundamentally different category than they appeared in previously, or if they emerge in a category that actively takes advantage of the vagaries of the Emmy nominations system. Whereas the rules governing Emmy Award categories—as I’ve discussed previously—can fundamentally shape who is nominated in meaningful ways, this year also reveals the inherent slipperiness of those categories in the midst of an increasingly competitive environment.

This slipperiness is not new—Downton Abbey has competed for both Miniseries and Drama Series, and the rise of the half-hour “dramedy” has inherently called into question the broad distinction between comedy and drama operating in the Emmy nominations process. But this year there is a much larger collection of series straddling these lines. True Detective, a close-ended miniseries that will return for a second stand-alone season, is nominated for Outstanding Drama Series, while Fargo—also a close-ended miniseries that could return for a second stand-alone season—is competing in Outstanding Miniseries (with American Horror Story, which brought this emergent television form into the Emmy conversation two years ago). Orange is the New Black competed as a Drama at the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes earlier this year, but is nominated as a Comedy at the Emmys (which is also competed as for the Writers’ Guild Awards). Shameless, which competed as a drama for three seasons, moved to Comedy and garnered William H. Macy his first nomination in a less crowded lead actor category. The Outstanding Miniseries category includes only one program we could unequivocally consider a miniseries, with the other five nominees each slotting into one category vagary—a short final season (Treme), canceled after a single season (The White Queen), a short British season (Luther)—or another.


This has typically been framed as “category fraud,” but such a term presumes there are explicit rules being broken, or that networks or channels making these choices are doing something “wrong.” While any categorization has to pass Academy scrutiny—Shameless had to apply for the change, for example—there is no real basis on which the Academy could refuse these distinctions. There is no rule against Netflix using the various other awards earlier in the year to test out how Orange Is The New Black competes as both a Drama and a Comedy before making a final decision. There is no rule against HBO taking True Detective out of the Miniseries category to maximize the channel’s chances of winning its first Drama Series Emmy since The Sopranos and leave the Movie/Miniseries field more open for Ryan Murphy’s The Normal Heart. While there are undoubtedly limits to a network or channel’s ability to redefine programming with a distinct generic or formal identity, this year reveals that those limits have yet to be reached.

screams-of-babylonIn truth, the Emmys have always been slightly category agnostic. History has shown voters will find certain actors or certain shows anywhere regardless of the category, nominated because of who they are more than because their performance was particularly well-liked—such “name-only” nominations may be primarily speculation (we cannot know for certain what Emmy voters did or did not watch), but Kristen Wiig’s nomination for her role in IFC’s absurdist miniseries Spoils of Babylon stands out as a case of voters finding Wiig—nominated five years in a row for her work on Saturday Night Live—in a different category rather than finding Spoils of Babylon (which only garnered a nomination for Theme Music otherwise).

But whereas those decisions only threaten to reveal that Emmy voters might not consider the quality of performance in relation to the category as the primary factor in their decision-making, a long-ago accepted reality of industry awards more broadly, these more recent developments have thrown into question the Academy’s entire structuring of the Emmy nominating process. It is a process that forces categorization without enforcing particular definitions of those categories, meaning that it fundamentally encourages discursive reworking of genre or formal identities while also forcing that discursive work to latch onto specific categories—Comedy or Drama, Series or Miniseries—that may or may not logically describe the programming in question.

The consequences of this are minimal: I may believe Orange is the New Black is a drama, but that “fraud” does not alter my relationship to the series in any meaningful way. Although I will continue to argue for the Emmys as a meaningful discursive space for engaging in questions of identity and in understandings of larger trends in how television value is determined, the slipperiness of the Emmy categories is—like coverage of prominent snubs—more a point of consternation than a point of meaningful contention.

Nonetheless, however, the sheer volume of categorical question marks this year is notable. Although the nominations suggest voters are category agnostic, the very existence of categorical distinctions suggests the Academy itself is not. And while it’s hard to imagine an Emmys without distinctions between comedy and drama, or between series and miniseries, the slippery nature of those terms raises the question of whether or not the Emmys will adapt either in conjunction with or in opposition to the discursive reframing of those categories by its members’ voting patterns or the networks and channels actively taking advantage of a malleable system.


Beyond the Nominations: The Emmys and Representation Tue, 01 Jul 2014 13:30:15 +0000 During last year’s Emmy Awards ceremony, Kerry Washington was feted by Diahann Carroll as a beacon for diversity in an award show dominated by white actors and actresses, particularly in lead categories. The nominations for categories like Lead Actress in a Drama Series, where Washington competed for her role on Scandal, are typically where this discussion takes place when engaging with the diversity of award shows.

Beyond the Nominations: The Emmys and Representation

Click here to view the video on YouTube.

However, this discussion truly begins in the months ahead of the Emmys. The numerous roundtable interviews and photo shoots organized by trade publications and wrestled over by publicists are where the politics of representation of awards season begin to form, while the Emmy submissions themselves offer a subsequent space in which such politics are negotiated.

thr_cover_emmy_actress_19This is particularly clear this year, given that Washington was notably absent from early Emmy campaigning, despite having been part of roundtables for both The Hollywood Reporter and Variety the previous year. This led to a Hollywood Reporter cover featuring the year’s top actresses, all of whom were white, and a Variety roundtable featuring six different lead actress contenders, all of whom were also white. Washington’s absence—likely tied to the fact she gave birth to her first child earlier this spring—offers a stark reminder that if not for Washington, there would be no women of color competitive in her category.

This is not to say that there are no other women of color submitted in the category: the official Emmy ballots revealed six, including Being Mary Jane’s Gabrielle Union, Sleepy Hollow’s Nicole Beharie, Elementary’s Lucy Liu, Nikita’s Maggie Q, and The Fosters’ Sherri Saum and Cierra Ramirez. Eliding for a moment the depressing statistic that only seven of the fifty-six women in the category are women of color, there are other reasons these women have been less visible than their counterparts. Issues of genre, network/channel branding, and cultural hierarchies of taste all make series like these less likely to draw Emmys in a dramatic field dominated by prestige cable dramas or network dramas with prestige cable auspices.

However, this does not necessarily exclude these women from participating in roundtables with major trade publications, provided their publicists—either associated with the network, studio, or the actress herself—work hard to get them there. Features like the Hollywood Reporter cover are competitive by nature, a coup for a publicist working hard to prove their worth to their client. But if you don’t have a publicist or agent who has played the Emmy game, or if you’re part of a show on a cable channel like BET with limited experience Emmy campaigning, there’s a good chance you will not be represented. And even if Gabrielle Union’s publicist had pushed for her to be included in one of these roundtables, would anyone have taken Union as a serious contender, given the low cultural standing of BET compared to the networks and channels dominant in the roundtables?

As Dear Black Woman reminds us, these realities do not render these situations ideologically neutral, because the optics they create are real, and offer a stark reminder of the state of diversity in not only the Emmys but in television more broadly. Rather, such considerations highlight how the Emmy nominating process functions as the intersection of multiple spaces of industry practice, each equally disinterested in confronting issues of diversity in a meaningful way unless someone like Washington emerges who fits the other requirements—a successful series, a reputable network, a strong publicity team—dominant in those spaces.

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 11.40.46 AMWe can extend this into the submissions process itself. Transitioning to issues of gender, three examples stand out among the series and performers submitted for consideration. In the case of Amy Schumer, star and executive producer of Comedy Central’s sketch comedy series Inside Amy Schumer, she’s forced to compete in the Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series category due to rules surrounding variety series. Although she is unlikely to garner a nomination in either category, the optics of the ballot push her into a supporting role on a show based around her comedy, and which in its appeal to female viewers signifies a meaningful shift in Comedy Central’s brand identity.

In other cases, Emmy campaigns reinforce broader readings of a series’ gender politics. HBO’s Silicon Valley focuses its satire on the male-dominated technology field, and in its short first season featured only one supporting female character in Monica, played by Amanda Crew. And although the show drew significant criticism for its engagement with gender, HBO nonetheless chose to submit every other credited actor in the series for Emmy consideration without submitting Crew, making it their only series without an acting submission from each gender. The chances of Crew being nominated are slim to none, but the optics of not even submitting her don’t seem worth the money saved with one less submission among their extensive slate.

Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 11.18.43 AMIn the case of FX’s Fargo, broader channel strategy intersects with gender in problematic ways. Although Allison Tolman has been cited as the series’ lead actress in interviews with its creator, she is submitted as a supporting actress, a category she won at the recent Critics’ Choice Television Awards. There is an awards logic to this decision: Tolman is a newcomer without the name recognition of those likely to compete in Lead Actress, plus FX has a better shot in that category with American Horror Story’s Jessica Lange. And yet this strategy marginalizes Tolman to a lesser category (which was nearly eliminated last year), and pitches Fargo as a show with two male leads (Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman), which is notable given how some critics felt the finale worked to marginalize her character.

While the ideological dimensions of Emmy campaigning are made visible in trade publications, the same dimensions in Emmy submissions need to be excavated, and depending on the nominations may never make it past the ballots. However, exploring these questions reinforces that our understanding of the politics of the Emmys is not only driven by who is nominated or wins, but by how issues of race and gender are negotiated in the processes that lead to those results.


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Oscars 2014: It’s Time Tue, 04 Mar 2014 13:25:03 +0000 Oscars - 12 YearsAt the end of her opening monologue for the 86th Academy Awards, host Ellen DeGeneres pointedly anticipated how the ceremony would shake out: “Possibility number one: 12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture. Possibility number two: Youre all racists.” Ultimately, the first option proved true. Director Steve McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley won for their unsparing adaptation of Solomon Northrup’s 1853 memoir. In addition, fellow Best Picture nominee Gravity won awards in several technical categories. Filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón also won for his work, becoming the first Latino to win the Best Director prize.

This year’s theme may have been “Heroes in Hollywood,” whatever that means. But the narrative that formed around many of the night’s winners and their award campaigns was the film industry’s progress and diversity. Of course, this is not a new story either. It’s a narrative to which many would ask: progress for whom and diversity for what purpose? In 2006, George Clooney caught flak for toasting Hollywood’s liberalism during his Supporting Actor acceptance speech for Syriana. At the same ceremony, Brokeback Mountain lost Best Picture to Crash. In addition, Paul Haggis’ film’s divisive win served as a misguided corrective to the unfortunate legacy of the 62nd Academy Awards, which honored Driving Miss Daisy with Best Picture while denying a nomination for Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. It’s a history which made me worry that 12 Years producer Brad Pitt was going to speak for the production as its predominantly black cast and crew took to the stage.

Oscars - SelfieThere is some credence to the Academy’s efforts to diversify who and what it chose to recognize. In addition to Cuarón, Sunday’s ceremony honored Robert Lopez and his wife and collaborator Kristen Anderson-Lopez with Best Song, for “Let It Go” from Frozen. The award also secured Lopez’s status as the youngest EGOT recipient, at 39. It also beat out Pharrell’s “Happy” from Despicable Me 2, though I’m confident that the producer will launch a successful EGOT campaign in time (I’d sign off on a Neptunes’ jukebox musical). The ceremony’s queer presence is still notable. Though I disagree with Dallas Buyers Club’s heteromasculine representation of the early phase of the AIDS epidemic, DeGeneres’ rocking multiple glittering tuxedos and serving penis jokes at Jonah Hill’s expense is still an exception on primetime network television.

Even though the screenplay was written by a white man, Spike Jonze’s Her advances fascinating ideas (and conversation) about gender, technology, and labor in a contemporary moment. Similar issues about the voice as a technology of gender and a site for labor come up in Morgan Neville’s 20 Feet From Stardom, a film about the professional contributions and legacies of predominantly African American female back-up singers. It won for Best Documentary Feature. It also resulted in my favorite musical performance, Darlene Love’s impromptu a cappella performance of “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.” Finally, we cannot ignore that all of this activity is occurring under the leadership of Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first black woman to serve as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS).

A pervasive attitude of many Oscar ceremonies was that certain films and talent should be given their due. This year, it was time to honor a film directed by a black British filmmaker and written by an African American screenwriter that boldly rewrites Hollywood slave narratives by eschewing an easy moralism that flatters white viewers. It was time to reward veteran actors and newcomers who represent marginalized identity groups and gave unforgettable performances. In this regard, many believed it was time for 12 Years to win, which it did for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress, for newcomer Lupita N’yongo’s cinematic debut.

Oscars - ActorsN’yongo is a star. She is a sensitive, intelligent performer who has brought the same thoughtfulness and humanity to her Oscar and Essence Award acceptance speeches that she gave to her character, Patsey. She has the self-possession necessary to pull off intricate couture and a variety of hairstyles for her politically short hair. She has a sense for how the film industry operates, skills she acquired from her studies at the Yale Drama School, as well as her experience as a production assistant. She brings a sense of wonder and purposefulness to collaboration, which allows her work with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Alfre Woodard, and Sarah Paulson to resonate and her perceptive comments and questions during The Hollywood Reporter’s actress roundtable to leave such an impression. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

I hope Hollywood recognizes that N’yongo is a star too. Giving her this award is a start. But women still struggle in an industry that doesn’t consistently create and finance films centered on complex female characters. This is a condition that Cate Blanchett challenged in her acceptance speech for Best Actress. Historically, the film industry gives even fewer opportunities to women of color. N’yongo followed 12 Years with Non-Stop, a thriller about a plane hijacking starring Liam Neeson. N’yongo plays a flight attendant with Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery. But I don’t want to just see N’yongo play flight attendants. I also don’t want to see her or her peers limited to exploring themes of subjugation and oppression from nations’ racist histories. I want Hollywood to explore the full range of her talents. If I were pitching projects, I’d rouse Steven Soderbergh from retirement to build an international spy caper around her with romantic intrigue, double agents, and sleek designer wear. I also want to know if she can switch between popcorn fare and Indiewood with the ease of someone Amy Adams, an actor unbound by genre or director who is overdue for her own statuette. Can N’yongo star in Her or a Muppet movie? I want to find out. I hope the film industry and the Academy do too.


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Self-Important Spectacle: The 2013 Emmy Awards Mon, 23 Sep 2013 05:59:37 +0000 EmmysUnderwoodWhen Stephen Colbert accepted his first of two awards on behalf of his team at The Colbert Report, which took home the Emmy for Writing for a Variety Series before ending compatriot Jon Stewart’s 10-year run in the Outstanding Variety Series category, he said he believed the Emmys were great this year. It was a joke because he was implying the Emmys were only great because he won; it was a successful joke because the Emmy ceremony had been, to that point, an unmitigated trainwreck of a production.

The Emmys began late due to a mess of a football game, where the New York Jets managed to sneak out a victory after setting team records for penalties and penalty yards. It was an omen for the night to come, where any objective referee would have penalized Ken Ehrlich and his production team on countless occasions. From the moment the ceremony began with an aimless sequence where the Emmy production team proved their ability to edit footage from various television shows together into fake conversations between television characters, it was clear that this was an evening set to celebrate television in the most misguided of ways.

It was unfortunate for the show’s producers there was no clear narrative that emerged out of the night’s winners: the Netflix ascension never materialized, Breaking Bad expanded its trophy case with wins for the show and Anna Gunn but didn’t dominate as it could have, and Modern Family went unrepresented in acting categories for the first time but nonetheless won the one that matters, Outstanding Comedy Series. It means the telecast itself becomes the narrative, and a rather unpleasant one at that.

There were the special eulogies for individuals who had passed on, which drew controversy for selective criteria in advance of the ceremony and criticism from viewers and winners—Modern Family’s Steven Levitan—for giving the evening a somber tone. There was the choice to maintain the audio feed in the theater for the In Memoriam segment itself, enabling the always tacky “Applause Meter” to judge the level of celebrity on display. There was the nonsensical appearance of Elton John to perform a new song that “reminds him” of Liberace only to attempt to justify his appearance given his nonexistent relationship to television. There was the excruciating opening segment that transitioned from the aforementioned pre-taped sequence to a lazy Saturday Night Live monologue where a parade of previous Emmy hosts were wasted right up until the point Tina Fey and Amy Poehler momentarily wrestled the show from its imminent doom.

And yet it was the look back in television history to the year 1963 that best encapsulates the broadcast’s problems. Combining a superfluous performance of The Beatles’ “Yesterday” from Carrie Underwood with a Don Cheadle-delivered retelling of a tumultuous year in our history, it sought to position television at the forefront of culture. It was television that helped the nation heal about JFK’s death, gave Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” resonance, made The Beatles the phenomenon they would become, and—in an awful segue—continues to serve as the launching pad for musical acts like Underwood. Anyone with an understanding of history—yet alone media scholars—would have scrawled all over their script, which fails to cite sources to support any of these overly simplistic claims.

In addition to this problem, however, it was also a sequence that implicitly argued the Emmys exist not simply to acknowledge the best in television, but also to reaffirm to us that television is an important part of society, and that—according to Television Academy chairman Bruce Rosenblum during his annual spiel—the Academy is there 365 days a year to help make this “golden age of television” a reality. This rhetoric was also evident in the sequence where Diahann Carroll read a prepared statement about her impact as the first African American actress nominated for an Emmy, turning over the microphone to Scandal’s Kerry Washington; it was the Emmys touting their progressivism, a noble gesture that does not change the dramatic underrepresentation of men and women of color both at the Emmys and on TV in general, and does not magically transform the Television Academy into the Peabody Awards overnight.

The Emmys are at their worst when they feel as though they are about the Emmys. As someone who has over time accumulated a wealth of knowledge about the Emmy Awards as an institution, I reveled in Ellen Burstyn joking about the screen time for her previous nomination and often found Ken Ehrlich’s broadcast fascinating in its tone deafness, but its ultimate failure is both undeniable and unfortunate when I consider the worthy—if, yes, also wealthy—winners whose personal and professional triumphs were overshadowed by the spectacle or lack thereof around them.

The most frustrating detail was in the special choreography segment featured in the broadcast’s final hour. For most viewers, the routine inspired by nominated series was representative of the hokey, misguided production numbers elsewhere in the broadcast. However, for me it was a rare case of one of the Creative Arts categories—consigned to a previous ceremony, which this year aired as a tape-delayed, edited two hours on FXX—being elevated to the main stage, with the choreographers—many of whom I respect based on their work on reality stalwart So You Think You Can Dance—nominated for their work in television being given an expansive platform for their work and an acknowledgment of their labor.

Whereas FXX’s broadcast only acknowledged nominees for guest acting awards, and aired only small portions of winners’ already short speeches, for a brief moment the Academy recognized the work of choreographers at the Emmys itself; it was unfortunate that what surrounded it so diminished the meaning of the performance. It was a broadcast that prioritized promotable musical acts at the expense of time for television professionals to accept their awards, so busy performing the “importance of television” that it forgot what—or who—actually makes television, if that was something the Academy even knew in the first place.


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Why Netflix is Not Emmy’s Online TV Vanguard Thu, 18 Jul 2013 15:05:06 +0000 HouseOfCardsEvery year the Primetime Emmy Award nominations tell a story. Most times, though, it’s a story about the nuances of the Emmys themselves; when Downton Abbey made the switch from miniseries to drama series last year, for example, it highlighted not a dramatic shift in the television landscape and more PBS’ expert negotiation of category vagaries. While the nominations or lack of nominations for specific series or performers could be considered signs of momentum gained or momentum lost, whether or not Tatiana Maslany earned an Emmy nomination—she didn’t—was always going to be a narrative more relevant to fans of Orphan Black and obsessive Emmy prognosticators than it was to “television” writ large.

However, while it would be ill advised to overemphasize the importance of the Emmy Awards, this year’s nominations have been identified as a bellwether moment for Netflix’s original content and “Internet television” in general. The New York Times headlined its Emmys report with the innocuous “Netflix Does Well in 2013 Primetime Emmy Nominations.” Variety went with “Emmys Recognize Digital Age as Netflix Crashes The Party.” They’re both headlines that read as though they were written in advance, a clear narrative for journalists to latch onto to sell this year’s Emmy nominations as “important,” knowing Netflix was likely to compete with House of Cards and Arrested DevelopmentHouse of Cards proved the big winner, earning nominations for Outstanding Drama Series, Lead Actor in a Drama Series, and Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Before the nominations were even announced, Academy chair Bruce Rosenblum acknowledged this narrative, citing the usual boilerplate about television changing into a multi-platform experience in his introduction to the live nominations announcement.

While acknowledging that Netflix’s rise is noteworthy, I reject its ties to the narrative of online television for two reasons. First and foremost, it is meaningful that the series Netflix submitted for consideration—which also included Hemlock Grove, and which earned a total of 14 nominations—are in no significant way a departure from traditional forms of television content. House of Cards is a premium cable drama series being distributed by Netflix; Arrested Development is a broadcast comedy turned premium cable comedy being distributed by Netflix. While there is clear innovation in terms of how these shows are reaching audiences, and I’ll acknowledge that Arrested Development’s puzzle-like structure is uniquely suited to that distribution model, we’re still considering series that would be strikingly familiar to Emmy voters.

These are not nominations for webseries like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, competing in categories specifically designed for web-based content. Julia Stiles was not nominated as Lead Actress in a Drama Series for Blue, a webseries distributed through the FOX-owned WIGS YouTube channel. There was actually a “webseries” nominated in a non-special class category: Machinima’s Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn earned a nomination for Outstanding Main Title Sequence, a nomination that oddly enough isn’t mentioned by Variety or The New York Times. Although I understand why Netflix is garnering the attention, to suggest that the Emmys are recognizing the digital age based on a showy drama series starring Kevin Spacey and produced by David Fincher, or a comedy series that was nominated for three-consecutive years in its previous life on broadcast, is to suggest that the Emmys simply acknowledging you can access the medium of television online outside of special class categories is itself remarkable. This seems like a low bar, and one that obscures the range of diverse and innovative forms being developed in an online space, and being mostly ignored by the Academy.

The other caveat necessary when considering the impact of Netflix’s nominations is that its distinct mode of distribution would have been erased for many Emmy voters. Netflix sent out screener DVDs of both House of Cards and Arrested Development to Emmy voters, meaning they never had to confront their status as “internet television” as they sampled series submitted for consideration. Additionally, online screening options have been available from networks like FOX or NBC for a number of years, which means that more technologically savvy Emmy voters are already used to streaming television (thereby erasing the only significant sense of difference tied to the Netflix series). While we can read the narrative of the Emmys embracing online television based on the basic fact of their nominations, the actual process through which Netflix earned those nominations did not necessarily carry the same narrative.

Comparisons have been drawn between Netflix’s breakthrough and that of premium and basic cable channels, which are still establishing “firsts”: Louie, for instance, is the first basic cable comedy to earn a nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series. However, as the difference between forms of distribution continues to collapse—especially for Emmy voters who receive DVDs or online streams stripped of commercials—we are no longer in an era where distribution is in and of itself a stigma facing television programs that otherwise tick off the Emmy boxes. Rather, the Emmys are a battle between brands as individual networks and channels seek to associate themselves with the prestige necessary to earn an Emmy nomination. Netflix didn’t earn Emmy nominations by stressing its sense of difference, but rather by erasing that difference, developing series that matched contemporary, popular conceptions of what qualifies as television prestige.

It is hard for me to accept this as a bellwether moment for online television when Netflix’s success is based on their ability to disassociate themselves with the notion of online television. Their success was not in breaking down barriers for new forms of distribution, but in finding a way to successfully convince Emmy voters those barriers did not apply to them. For evidence of this, one need look no further than the official “Facts and Figures” document released by the TV Academy: despite all this discussion about online television, Netflix is categorized alongside AMC and HBO as a cable channel despite the existence of a broadband category, which is exactly what Netflix intended and the narrative we should be taking away from these nominations.


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Golden Globes 2013: Going Home With Jodie Foster Mon, 14 Jan 2013 23:06:45 +0000 This past December, a colleague and I gave a guest lecture on women in comedy. After an abbreviated survey of women’s contributions to American television comedy, we used the following questions as a guide: “Who gets to be funny?,” “Funny to whom?,” “Is it funny to be a feminist?,” and “Is it feminist to be funny?”

We used two awards’ show moments as bookends. We opened with a clip of Amy Poehler standing in solidarity with her fellow nominees at the 2011 Emmys. We closed on an image of Poehler and Tina Fey, who were selected to host the 2013 Golden Globes. We wondered what it meant for the two actresses – who were part of a television moment that once again illustrated how they’ve made careers out of using comedy to negotiate feminism – to rush the stage in 2011 and (wo)man the podium in 2013. Was it a big deal for two women to host an awards show, a duty often bestowed upon their male contemporaries? Was it important that they follow in the footsteps of the co-creator of The Office who offended celebrities’ delicate sensibilities for three years? What kind of compromises would they make as hosts? Who was absent by virtue of their presence? Did it matter?

I think so. Fey and Poehler made clear in their opener at last night’s 70th Golden Globe Awards that they were going to keep the ceremony moving as they blithely delivered jokes about (and at) Ricky Gervais, Lena Dunham’s nudity, Daniel Day Lewis’ acting, Kathryn Bigelow’s marriage to James Cameron, Quentin Tarantino (eek!), Anne Hathaway (ouch), and their responsibilities as hosts (including having to go without pie for six weeks). If some considered this to be a tame outing for the pair, I was often unclear when Gervais was speaking truth to power and when he was just pleased with himself for being mean. Their routine lacked some of the feminist bite of their best work as Weekend Update anchors, but the women behind Liz Lemon and Leslie Knope make television out of picking your battles. Plus, I get a kick out of friends making each other laugh. For every moment they cracked themselves up, whether they were putting on false teeth and mustaches, holding hands expectantly with Jennifer Lopez, sitting on George Clooney’s lap, getting Glenn Close to play drunk, or chiding Dunham’s youth, I imagined them chuckling through rewrites, rehearsals, and late-night phone calls.

Some might be tempted to claim that the Golden Globes helped raise the banner for women. Not so fastJessica Chastain gave an empowered speech that compared her character in Zero Dark Thirty to its director, two women who let their work and not their gender speak for them. I was especially moved by Chastain’s willingness to gently challenge Bigelow by giving her credit for helping allow for a wider range of roles for women in the industry. But I have to pause at the thought that social progress might have anything to do with women enacting torture – a horrifying responsibility Claire Danes seemed to shrug off in her acceptance speech, which also nodded toward (certain) women’s increased visibility on the small screen.

“Funny to whom?” is a key question for Dunham’s rise. Girls is a promising comedy, but I don’t want to overburden the show with unearned societal import and want badly for other comedic voices to benefit from the platform Dunham has been given. The show caught flak for its invocation of a select identity group that isn’t totalizing for the many people who exist outside of it. Like many 26 year olds, Dunham is frustratingly inconsistent, responding to criticism against the show, its staff, and her own appeals to white privilege and hipster racism with apologies and correctives that waver between defensive, tongue-in-cheek, and humbled.

Dunham has always been ambivalent about Girls‘ scope. Her comedic sensibility is keyed into a distinct milieu. But during her first acceptance speech, she dedicated her win to “every woman who’s ever felt like there wasn’t a space for her.” This phrase stuck out, as Don Cheadle was the only person of color to win a Golden Globe this year. During the broadcast, Jamie Foxx presented Django Unchained, a film in which he played the title character, wasn’t nominated, and saw Tarantino and Christopher Waltz collect their awards and Leonardo DiCaprio get a nod. How white is that? Obviously, this isn’t Dunham’s fault. But she’s a recognized, powerful member of the industry now. I hope she works to find room for “every woman” in her own work and uses her influence to give the floor to them.

Jodie Foster answered the call to female empowerment with an ellipsis, a question mark, and the start of another sentence. The actress-director-Yale alumna almost came out, prompting Melissa Harris Perry to compare her Cecil B. DeMille acceptance speech to Hannah Arendt’s political theory. She implied that she came out a lifetime ago when she was a younger, more uncertain person. She made herself visible to people she knew off-camera and not to the millions watching at home. She thanked her former partner and their two sons. She insisted on her privacy, an intangible for a former child star. She may have also suggested that the necessity to come out in public reinforces heteronormativity. And, very tenderly, she said she loved her ailing mother. She also turned Honey Boo Boo into a straw man and expressed tenderness for Mel Gibson, which I cannot fathom. Slippery rhetoric aside, Foster made clear that her life is none of our business. It’s a contradictory statement to make when receiving a lifetime achievement award, yet a bold claim.

But her statement could still be turned into a (light) joke, because words are malleable. During their sign-off, Poehler told the crowd that she and Fey were going home with Foster. To start a Judith Butler reading group over cocktails? If only. To lobby for Mindy Kaling’s nomination next year? I hope so, and not in isolation. Some of us were on stage this year. Congratulations. What’s next?