Sacha Baron Cohen vs. Trump and Giuliani, Chloé Zhao makes history, Time's Up still ticked: Golden Globes 2021 highs, lows and head-scratchers

Ethan Alter, Kevin Polowy and Raechal Shewfelt
·13-min read

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler may have wanted to keep the 2021 Golden Globes a politics-free zone. But Sacha Baron Cohen didn't get that memo from the show's hosts... or he just ignored it. The Borat Subsequent Moviefilm star used his dual acceptance speeches to pointedly tweak Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump, both of whom play major (if unwitting) roles in the hit sequel. Cohen's comments functioned as the telecast's most trenchant — and hilarious — pieces of political commentary on an evening when most presenters and winners tried to turn the focus elsewhere.

While Cohen's speeches inspired tears of laughter, genuine tears were shed when Hollywood legend Norman Lear, five months shy of his 99th birthday, accepted the Carol Burnett Award for his storied career, and when Simone Ledward Boseman spoke on behalf of her dearly departed husband, Chadwick Boseman, who won a posthumous statue for his blistering performance in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.

While those moments ranked among the show's highlights, the Globes' luster was dimmed by the continued controversy over the lack of diversity within the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Executives from the organization attempted to address the absence of Black voters in the group head-on, but their comments didn't exactly persuade viewers or activists. It didn't help that the night's first winner — Judas and the Black Messiah star Daniel Kaluuyasuffered technical difficulties during his speech that nearly prevented his voice from being heard.

Read on for our recap of the night's highs, lows and head-scratchers.

HIGH: Sacha Baron Cohen took shots at Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump, officially retires Borat

Sacha Baron Cohen may have logged more on-camera hours in the buzzy sequel Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, but he made sure to give credit to the movie's real star: Rudy Giuliani. While accepting his award for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical, he cuttingly characterized the former New York mayor as a "fresh new talent" who got more laughs "out of one unzipping" than anyone thought possible. In a subsequent speech after his movie won the prize for Best Musical or Comedy, Cohen name-checked Giuliani's one-time employer Donald Trump, claiming that the former president was "contesting the results" of Borat's big night. Speaking to the press afterwards, Cohen stated that Trump was the reason he did the sequel. "I made this movie because of Donald Trump because I felt democracy was really in danger. I felt that the underbelly that I had exposed in Borat 1 of anti-Semitism and hatred and misogyny had become overt. Racists were out and proud, we had one who was the president. … I felt the only thing I could do was pull out the gray suit and do Borat again. I felt like we had to get it out before the election. It was me ringing the bell saying this is the danger of re-electing him. And if he had won on November 3 and I hadn't made the movie, I wouldn't have been able to live with myself." Cohen added that he was officially retiring his Borat persona, saying it was too dangerous to do another film.

LOW: The Hollywood Foreign Press Association's lack of diversity gets panned (again)

Shortly after hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler opened the ceremony by mocking the HFPA's notorious lack of diversity (the group has no Black members), a trio of executives — Meher Tatna (chairperson and former president), Ali Sar (president) and Helen Hoehne (vice president) — took the stage. "We must ensure everyone gets a seat at our table," said Tatna. Hoehne added: "We recognize we have our own work to do. Just like in film and television, Black representation is vital. We must have Black journalists in our organization." However their statements fell flat with viewers and critics. Moments after the show ended, Time's Up issued a statement blasting the HFPA for "a fundamental lack of understanding of the depth of the problems at hand" and stating, "change only occurs from an awareness of larger cultural problems, as well as a long-term commitment to systemic change."

HIGH: Chadwick Boseman's widow paid tearful tribute to the star

Chadwick Boseman didn't live to accept his Best Actor, Drama trophy for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. But his spirit was very much in the room as his widow, Simone Ledward Boseman, spoke beautifully on his behalf. "He would thank God, he would thank his parents, he would thank his ancestors for their guidance and their sacrifices," she said, as fellow nominees Riz Ahmed and Gary Oldman joined her in tearing up. "I don't have his words, but we have to take this moment to celebrate those we love."

HIGH: Chloé Zhao is the second female filmmaker to win the Best Director statue

NEW YORK, NEW YORK: 78th Annual GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS -- Pictured: (l-r) Chloé Zhao accepts the Best Director - Motion Picture award for ‘Nomadland’ via video from Bryce Dallas Howard onstage at the 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at The Rainbow Room and broadcast on February 28, 2021 in New York, New York. -- (Photo by Peter Kramer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Chloé Zhao accepts the Best Director, Motion Picture award for Nomadland via video from Bryce Dallas Howard onstage at the 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards. (Photo: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

The last time a female director took home the Globe's directing prize, Ronald Reagan was in the White House, Silkwood topped the box office and "Yes" was No. 1 on the Billboard chart. Yentl helmer Barbra Streisand became the first woman to shatter that particular barrier at the 41st Golden Globes in 1984, but it took another 37 years for the "sequel" to arrive in the form of Nomadland's Chloé Zhao. The Beijing-born filmmaker is also the first Asian woman to accept both that statue, and the award for Best Motion Picture, Drama — another step in the movie's clear path to an Oscar night victory. And Streisand congratulated Zhao on Twitter:

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HIGH: Norman Lear dropped pearls of wisdom

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA: 78th Annual GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS -- Pictured: (l-r) Honoree Norman Lear accepts the Carol Burnett Award while co-host Amy Poehler watches onstage at the 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at The Beverly Hilton and broadcast on February 28, 2021 in Beverly Hills, California. -- (Photo by Christopher Polk/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Honoree Norman Lear accepts the Carol Burnett Award while co-host Amy Poehler watches onstage at the 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards. (Photo: Christopher Polk/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

At 98 years young, TV legend Norman Lear is still taking his younger peers to school. Accepting the HFPA's Carol Burnett Award, the super-producer behind such beloved shows as as All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Maude and both versions of One Day at a Time gave one of the night’s best speeches, one that left everyone in the audience — both in the room and at home — visibly awed. "I could not feel more blessed," Lear said, reflecting on his career. "I am convinced that laughter adds time to one's life. ... At close to 99, I can tell you that I have never lived alone. I have never laughed alone and that has as much to do with my being here today as anything else I know." If he keeps laughing, he's gonna live to be 200.

HIGH: Jane Fonda gives love to the snubbed

Seven-time Golden Globe winner Jane Fonda was honored with the HFPA’s Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award Sunday. That alone was enough to excite cinephiles, but she made social media downright giddy when she used her acceptance speech to honor a handful of films and television shows that were snubbed in this year's irksome ballot. Fonda gave props to a handful of projects that were overlooked, most centered around people of color, including Minari (which was controversially restricted to the Best Foreign-Language category), the Black-led films Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, One Night in Miami and Judas and the Black Messiah (which were all left out of Best Picture), and HBO's I May Destroy You (which was completely ignored despite being one of the best-reviewed shows of the year). Fonda was still talking things she loved when she entered the "backstage" press room, singing the praises of the 2019 Bill Nighy film Hope Gap.

HIGH: Tina and Amy kept the show moving right along

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 28: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler speak via livestream during the 78th Annual Golden Globe® Awards at The Rainbow Room on February 28, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Hollywood Foreign Press Association)
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler speak via livestream during the 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards. (Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Hollywood Foreign Press Association)

Despite being on opposite coasts, the dynamic duo of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler barely missed a step as the evening's emcees. The Saturday Night Live veterans and longtime friends ably danced around the night’s numerous technical snafus, and didn’t hold back from criticizing their HFPA hosts for the group's questionable nomination choices, as well as its controversial lack of Black members. Remind us why they don't have their own late-night show again?

LOW: Daniel Kaluuya was nearly done dirty

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA: 78th Annual GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS -- Pictured: (l-r) Laura Dern presents the Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture award for ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ to winner Daniel Kaluuya (accepting via video) onstage at the 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at The Beverly Hilton and broadcast on February 28, 2021 in Beverly Hills, California. -- (Photo by Christopher Polk/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Laura Dern presents the Best Supporting Actor, Motion Picture award for Judas and the Black Messiah to winner Daniel Kaluuya (accepting via video) onstage at the 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards. (Photo: Christopher Polk/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

In an awards show face plant for the ages, the Globes followed up Fey and Poehler's blistering monologue addressing the lack of diversity in its organization by announcing Daniel Kaluuya as the nights first winner… and then almost didn’t let him speak. The Judas and the Black Messiah star’s attempts to accept his Best Supporting Actor trophy were marred by technical difficulties that muted his audio. Just as presenter Laura Dern was about to move the show along, Kaluuya was finally seen and heard. "You did me dirty," he said half-jokingly, adding "I'll save all that for the HFPA."

LOW: Maya Rudolph and Kenan Thompson's SNL reunion needed more rehearsal

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA: 78th Annual GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS -- Pictured: (l-r) Maya Rudolph and Kenan Thompson perform a skit onstage at the 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at The Beverly Hilton and broadcast on February 28, 2021 in Beverly Hills, California. -- (Photo by Rich Polk/NBCUniversal/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Maya Rudolph and Kenan Thompson perform a skit onstage at the 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards. (Photo: Rich Polk/NBCUniversal/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Fey and Poehler may have slayed the crowd, but the evening’s other SNL pairing didn’t generate the same Studio 8H magic. Maya Rudolph — who was just announced as the host of the March 27 episode — and Kenan Thompson took the stage in the guise of oddball composers, and proceeded to come up with their own bizarre versions of TV theme songs. It was a bit that probably sounded great on paper, but SNL mastermind, Lorne Michaels, absolutely would have known to cut it after the dress rehearsal. Another not-ready-for-Globes-time bit saw Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo needlessly reprising their Barb and Star personas from Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar at a time when our collective patience was wearing thin.

HEAD-SCRATCHER: Jason Sudeikis was high on… life?

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA: 78th Annual GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS -- Pictured: Jason Sudeikis (c) accepts the Best Television Actor – Musical/Comedy Series award for ‘Ted Lasso’ via video from Sterling K. Brown (l) and Susan Kelechi Watson onstage at the 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at The Beverly Hilton and broadcast on February 28, 2021 in Beverly Hills, California. -- (Photo by Christopher Polk/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Jason Sudeikis accepts the Best Television Actor, Musical/Comedy Series award for Ted Lasson via video from Sterling K. Brown and Susan Kelechi Watson. (Photo: Christopher Polk/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Blame it on the time zone perhaps: Ted Lasso star Jason Sudeikis was watching the Globes from London, where the local time was 1 a.m., which might have explained his bleary-eyed, dressed-down appearance. But after he won the statue for Best Actor in a Comedy — beating out the presumptive favorite, Eugene Levy — the actor's hilariously rambling speech had many wondering if he was under the influence of something other than jet lag. Fellow nominee Don Cheadle tried to help him save face, repeatedly giving him the "wrap it up" gesture over Zoom. Sudeikis is gonna need a strong cup of tea in the morning.

HIGH: The Crown stars show love to Princess Diana… and each other

UNSPECIFIED: 78th Annual GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS -- Pictured in this screengrab released on February 28, (l-r) Emma Corrin, winner of Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama for
Emma Corrin, winner of Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series, Drama for The Crown, speaks during the 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards broadcast. (Photo: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Both Emma Corrin and Josh O'Connor, who played a young Princess Diana and Prince Charles in the Netflix drama, won their first Golden Globes on Sunday night. Corrin praised the late royal-turned-humanitarian in her speech. "And most of all, thank you so much to Diana,” she said. "You have taught me compassion and empathy beyond any measure that I could ever imagine. On behalf of everyone who remembers you so fondly and passionately in our hearts, thank you." Meanwhile, she called O'Connor her "Prince Charming," and she said he makes “every single day by my side a complete joy." He returned the compliment when he described Corrin as "extraordinary, talented, funny and brilliant." O'Connor wiped away tears as he said, "I've had the time of my life making this series."

HIGH and LOW: A trio of major upsets in female acting races

The 2021 Globes proved once again to be Hollywood's most unpredictable awards — and that's not necessarily a compliment. For starters, the Best Actress, Drama race included three presumptive Oscar contenders in Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Frances McDormand (Nomadland) and Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman), yet it was Andra Day who shocked everyone by winning for her lead turn in The United States vs. Billie Holiday. Elsewhere, Jodie Foster was considered the least likely winner in Best Supporting Actress, but still topped Amanda Seyfried (Mank), Olivia Colman (The Father) and Glenn Close (Hillbilly Elegy) for The Mauritanian. Foster, herself, said the win was the biggest surprise of her career. Elsewhere, surprise nominee Rosamund Pike became surprise winner for Netflix's I Care A Lot in Best Actress, Musical or Comedy, beating highly favorited Borat 2 breakout Maria Bakalova. The Globes, as they say, gonna globe… but at least it made the night more interesting.

HEAD-SCRATCHER: Wait, did Tracy Morgan really give an award to "Sal"?!

Tracy Morgan has been known to make the occasional verbal gaffe — the most legendary being Fey's explanation that the person Morgan would refer to as "Jack Human" was actually Hugh Jackman. In presenting Best Original Score, Fey’s 30 Rock cohort emphatically yelled out “SAL!” as the winner, when he meant Soul, as in Disney-Pixar's latest animated feature. He later apologized for the slip in typical Morgan fashion.

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HIGH: Forget the stars — show us their pets... and kids!

Regina King's dog Cornbread wasn't nominated for any awards, but he was definitely one of the night's winners! He was one of the pets and kids who stood proudly by their parents' sides as the camera switched to them in a bizarre awards season. Sarah Paulson cuddled her dog, Winnie, while Corrin, from The Crown, held her cat. Director Lee Isaac Chung, whose Minari won Best Foreign-Language Film, was one of several recipients with little ones nearby. As his category was called, his 7-year-old daughter called out, “I prayed! I prayed!” and hugged her dad. Two of Mark Ruffalo’s teens were there to congratulate him on his win for I Know This Much Is True. And Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban shared their sofa with their daughters, Sunday and Faith, who generally eschew the spotlight.

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