There are millions of Americans who grew up watching television and seeing movies where no one looked or acted like them. The staggering lack of diversity in Hollywood has been studied, weighed, and measured. The results point to an overabundance of straight, white men, and the invisibility of men and women of color and LGBT people.
Television shows and movies have often represented the best of us, the best of humanity. But they have never really represented all of us.
At the Golden Globes on Sunday night, it seemed as if the Hollywood Foreign Press was bucking this trend. The first glimmer happened early — Gina Rodriguez beat stalwarts like Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and Edie Falco, Lena Dunham and Taylor Schilling, for her work on Jane the Virgin. Later on in the night, Jeffrey Tambor won for portraying a transgender woman named Maura Pfefferman in Transparent. And Matt Bomer snagged the Globe for best actor in a miniseries for his performance as a gay man dying from AIDS in The Normal Heart.
The Golden Globes rewarded these shows, these actors, and the writers and directors behind the scenes, for exploring lives that we weren't seeing on television five, 10, or 15 years ago.
Gina Rodriguez is a star
For Rodriguez, the character she plays — the title role on Jane the Virgin — is intrinsic to who she is. The actress has spoken about the lack of roles for Latinas on television. When Rodriguez was growing up — like millions of Americans — she never saw herself on screen.
"The way I grew up, I never saw myself on screen. I have two older sisters. One’s an investment banker. The other one is an doctor, and I never saw us being played as investment bankers," she said last summer during the TCA tour. "And I realized how limiting that was for me. I would look at the screen and think, ‘Well, there’s no way I can do it, because I’m not there.’ And it’s like as soon as you follow your dreams, you give other people the allowance to follow theirs."
Rodriguez's acceptance speech called back to this idea.
"This award is so much more than myself, it represents a culture that wants to see themselves as heroes," Rodriguez said, her voice cracking.
Bomer, Tambor, and LGBT representation
"To the generation we lost, and the people we continue to lose to this disease, we love you and will continue to remember you." Matt Bomer said during his speech on Sunday.
Bomer starred as a New York Times reporter named Felix Turner in The Normal Heart, HBO's adaptation of Larry Kramer's semi-autobiographical play. Bomer, like Turner, is gay. Turner, like a generation of real life gay men, succumbed to the disease. Bomer has spoken about the importance of The Normal Heart and the need for more representation, and how the story is so important to the LGBT community. He told The Daily Beast last May:
One thing I learned from this film that I hope the younger generation will take away — or maybe it just reminded me, after delving into it so deeply — is that as difficult as the activism was, ultimately, it did unite us and gave us our voice.
Not unlike Bomer and Rodriguez, Jeffrey Tambor was quick to remind us that his win isn't about him. Tambor isn't a transgender woman, and from the outset of his role in Transparent, he has made clear that he was grateful for being a vessel for the community to tell its story.
"This is much bigger than me," he said. "I would like to dedicate my performance and this award to the transgender community. Thank you for your courage, thank you for your inspiration, thank you for your patience and thank you for letting us be a part of the change."
Diversity is knocking on Hollywood's door
Though these actors and the shows and movies they're in were recognized on Sunday, they aren't the only examples of strides being made.
Orange Is the New Black is continually carving out paths and stories for transgender and non-white women. Black-ish and How to Get Away with Murder have become hits for ABC, which learned its lesson from the success of Shonda Rhimes and Scandal. Looking, in its second season, is sharper than ever. And Fresh off the Boat, a comedy about an Asian-American family and assimilation, will debut next month.
Of course, these shows all can't win awards. But it's progress and a sign that art is starting to reflect the audience that consumes it. And on Sunday night, The Golden Globes showed us the awards, at least, are watching.