I watched the Golden Globes this past Sunday, January 10, and as always, I was left feeling uncomfortable and slightly disappointed. (I don’t know why I still watch award shows, they’re trash honestly. But I digress.) In thinking about the show in hindsight, I have a nagging thought.
Lady Gaga won a Golden Globe for her role as the Countess on American Horror Story: Hotel. And while my visceral reaction was “Wow! Good for her,” I couldn’t help but feel a little conflicted about my initial reaction in the days after. I have been a fan of Gaga’s music, and know about her lifelong relationship with the arts, initially acting before music. I respect her as an artist, and think it’s great that she was finally able to return to the craft she never got to pursue because her music career took off. And granted, now I feel obligated to watch Hotel just to see if she was that good.
But one image got stuck in my mind, both during Gaga’s speech and throughout the show as a whole: Queen Latifah, in her beautiful greenish gown, smiling her regal smile, and nodding. She was nominated in the same category as Gaga, but lost, once again.
I couldn’t help but think about all of the actresses of color that have been in the game way longer than Lady Gaga, but are only just now getting recognized for their acting talent. Still to this day, I know Queen Latifah as Khadijah James from my favorite ’90s sitcom Living Single, as Cleo from Set It Off, as Motormouth Maybelle from the remake of Hairspray. Queen Latifah has been acting for upwards of 20 years, for as long as I have been alive (Living Single began in 1993). Her filmography is so stacked it’s hard to keep up with the many ways she’s transformed herself. And even still, she only has one Golden Globe and one Emmy to her name, both of which were only awarded within the last decade.
Regina King is yet another OG actress just now getting recognition. She recently won an Emmy for her role in the inaugural season of American Crime, and is one of the stars of the acclaimed HBO show The Leftovers. Regina King has been acting longer than Queen Latifah has, getting her start on the ’80s sitcom 227, awful hot-combed bangs and all.
Taraji P. Henson, who won a Globe (!!!) for her role as Cookie Lyon on Empire, got her first acting role in 1997 on the kids sitcom Smart Guy (remember that show, with Tia and Tamera’s little brother Tahj?). As she was sure to alert the crowd in her acceptance speech, she’s been doing this for 20 years, and now is her time to shine. Even her pairing with Terrence Howard isn’t new, as the two of them starred together in Hustle & Flow ten years before Empire began.
Hell, Lady Gaga thanked Angela Bassett in her speech, and she wasn’t even nominated. Do you know how long Angela Bassett (and her biceps) have been acting?! And don’t even get me started on Viola Davis….
So what am I saying here? I’m saying that actresses of color are still marginalized. I’m saying that actresses of color still have to work longer and harder to be seen and heard. Black audiences have known and followed the aforementioned actresses for years; it’s only white audiences now that are catching up. America Ferrera and Eva Longoria, while not up for any awards, appeared at the Globes to present an award; in their banter before they revealed the winner for Best Actor (John Hamm), they poked fun at the fact that the Golden Globes mistook America Ferrera for Gina Rodriguez a while back. When there are so few notable actresses of color in Hollywood, mainstream audiences often speak of them interchangeably, not realizing that they are, in fact, different people.
I can’t help but feel unsettled at the fact that actresses like Queen Latifah, Taraji P. Henson, Regina King, and so many others had to work for years, decades even to get an ounce of the recognition and reverence that white actresses like Lady Gaga — in her first year of acting professionally and first nomination — get almost effortlessly.
And while the Golden Globes still have a way to go in the way of recognizing work by actors of color, it’s doing far better than the Oscars, which for the second year in a row, features zero actors of color nominated for any of the acting categories.
I think it’s great that Lady Gaga won a Golden Globe in her first major role as an actress. I have no doubt she worked hard to bring her character to life. But, as media consumers we must be critical of the recognition certain actors are given over others relative to how long and hard those “others” have worked to earn their recognition.