I May Destroy You snubbed by the Golden Globes
Caitlin Barr considers the history of awards ceremonies, discrimination, and Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You
Every awards season, I log onto Twitter and am immediately greeted with hundreds of tweets about various snubs, shock nominations, and film and TV fans lamenting their faves not being recognised by the powers that be. Some of these criticisms are more trivial, but many shine a light on awarding bodies’ lack of respect for female and non-white directors, writers, and actors. Last year the scandal centred around no women being nominated for Best Director at the Oscars, despite Greta Gerwig, Lulu Wang, and Celine Sciamma (just to name a few) having released very highly regarded films. This year, women are at the forefront of the discourse again, as the Golden Globes announced their nominees in their TV categories and people noticed a key omission. Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You received no nominations, despite being one of the most highly acclaimed and widely talked about TV shows last year.
Perhaps even more inconceivably, Emily in Paris, a show about a woman called Emily who, you’ve guessed it, moves to Paris, was nominated in two separate categories. People were quick to point out that racism may have a part to play in this – I May Destroy You is a series about a Black woman, her predominantly Black friends, and how race can interact with poverty and trauma, whereas Emily in Paris features an almost entirely white cast. The Globes, one of the most important awards events for the TV industry, may seem to be suggesting that stories like Michaela Coel’s (I May Destroy You was created using elements of Coel’s own experiences, most notably an assault she experienced) aren’t worthy of accolades.
it’s discouraging to see that such a marvellous, original, highly acclaimed piece of work by a talented young Black woman is not being given the credit it deserves
This isn’t a case of pitting two female-led narratives against one another, though if it was, I’d point out that most of the crew behind Emily in Paris are men. Emily in Paris is fun, enjoyable, relaxing TV, and there’s nothing wrong with that. During lockdown, many people have turned to, as Kristen Baldwin of Entertainment Weekly dubbed the series, “five-hour brain vacation” shows. It’s snobbish to suggest that shows of Emily in Paris’ ilk are not worthy of celebration, but these shows do not tend to get nominated for awards. Whether or not that is unfair is an entirely different discourse. Still, it is alarming that the panel of the Globes saw fit to nominate Emily in Paris, which received incredibly mixed reviews from both critics and viewers, and completely ignore I May Destroy You, which appeared in the number one spot on more than 30 ‘best of the year’ lists. Even French newspaper Le Monde named I May Destroy You the best TV series of 2020, but suspiciously left Emily in Paris off the list.
When shows like I May Destroy You are ignored by awarding bodies, they send a message: these narratives are not important to us. This can have an effect on which shows are then optioned by streaming services and distributors. Coel’s series about a Black woman navigating the aftermath of a rape was raved about so much partly because we’d never seen anything like it before. How many other people have stories like that to tell that need listening to? Compare this to the narrative of Emily in Paris, which, while being entertaining and far more easy to watch than I May Destroy You, is essentially a white woman having a pretty good time in a European city, and it is difficult to justify the Globes’ choice. We have seen this story many times before. As Vulture’s Rachel Handler put it: “Darren Star has done it yet again: centred an entire show on a thin, gently delusional white woman whimsically exploring a major metropolitan area in wildly expensive couture purchased on a mid-level salary.” The Devil Wears Prada and Sex in the City immediately spring to mind as similar narratives. Even one of the writers on the show has come forward, saying “That I May Destroy You did not get one Golden Globe nod is not only wrong, it’s what is wrong with everything.” How much more exciting would the TV industry be if we stopped platforming the same tired, overdone plots and dug for new talent, new perspectives, and new narratives to uphold?
A show as explosively brilliant as I May Destroy You deserves recognition. It has won two awards so far (the Independent Spirit Awards’ Best Ensemble Cast in a New Scripted Series and Best Breakthrough Series – Short Form from the Gotham Independent Film Awards) and been nominated for five more at the time of writing, but its snub by one of the key players in the industry is disturbing.
After so many conversations about uplifting Black narratives in all industries were had last year, it’s discouraging to see that such a marvellous, original, highly-acclaimed piece of work by a talented young Black woman is not being given the credit it deserves. Still, we can hope that Coel’s trailblazing show has inspired others to write about their own experiences, and maybe we will be graced with more incredible shows from marginalised voices in the years to come.