Early Wednesday morning, as I was trying to decide whether to do a Yoga with Adrienne video or eat the leftover whipped cream, my mother called to tell me the news. “Emily in Paris just got nominated for a Golden Globe!” she said.
“What? For which category?” I said. I’m a writer on the show. I tried to avoid reading its criticism, but I don’t live under a rock. It never occurred to me that our show would be nominated.
“For best whatever,” said my mom. We haven’t hugged since 2019. She gets her second vaccine shot in two weeks. Maybe the first one messed with her head.
“Best comedy series? Are you sure?” I down a spoonful of whipped cream.
“Yes, Deb, I’m sure. I’m watching it on TV right now.”
“Huh. Weird.” I Google it twice to be sure.
Like Emily, I’m both a former American expat who was based in Paris (as a photojournalist from 1988 to 1992), as well as a former pharmaceutical brand marketer: a gig I took after being sexually harassed out of my journalism job (by a man Trump just pardoned, but I digress) when I was a single mother trying to put two kids through college. Emily’s vaginal ring brand manifesto? Cut and pasted from the one I wrote for my marketing job. “Le vagin n’est pas masculin?” I came up with that, too. As for Emily’s many faux pas? Let’s just say that during my first month in Paris, when I was a 22-year-old ingenue having dinner with my photojournalism colleagues, and one of them asked if I wanted more food, I answered, “Non, merci. Je suis pleine.” Which does not mean, “No thanks, I’m full,” but rather, “No, thanks. I’m pregnant.”
Did I take the criticism of the show personally? Of course. Who wouldn’t? But also not. Emily in Paris aired a few months after I’d spent June and July marching for racial justice through the streets of New York with my kids. I could definitely see how a show about a white American selling luxury whiteness, in a pre-pandemic Paris scrubbed free of its vibrant African and Muslim communities, might rankle. Our show also aired soon after I read Caste by Isabel Wilkerson and gobbled down Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You, a work of sheer genius about the aftermath of a rape. “That show,” I told everyone who would listen, “deserves to win all the awards.”
When it didn’t, I was stunned. I May Destroy You was not only my favorite show of 2020. It’s my favorite show ever. It takes the complicated issue of a rape – I’m a sexual assault survivor myself – and infuses it with heart, humor, pathos and a story constructed so well, I had to watch it twice, just to understand how Coel did it.
Now, am I excited that Emily in Paris was nominated? Yes. Of course. I’ve never been remotely close to seeing a Golden Globe statue up close, let alone being nominated for one. But that excitement is now unfortunately tempered by my rage over Coel’s snub. That I May Destroy You did not get one Golden Globe nod is not only wrong, it’s what is wrong with everything.
Take my friend Deb Dugan, the first female president and CEO of the Recording Academy. She was brought in to deal with, among other things, graft, corruption, sexism and the ongoing problem of #grammyssowhite. When Deb began to do that – when she actually started trying to clean house at the Recording Academy and had to file her own sexual harassment complaint while so doing – she was fired.
Take every writers room in Hollywood. A 2017 report by Color of Change found that 91% of showrunners are white and 80% are male.
Take the recent headlines. That a white woman who stormed the Capitol was given permission to go on vacation to Mexico while a nine-year-old Black girl was pepper-sprayed by police, for the crime of asking for her father – “You’re acting like a child!” the cops told her, to which she answered, “I am a child!”– tells you everything you need to know about systemic racism in America.
But my fury is not just about race. Or even about racial representation in art. Yes, we need art that reflects all of our colors, not just some. But we also need to give awards to shows (and music and films and plays and musicals) that deserve them, no matter the color of the skin of their creators. Is Hamilton great because Lin-Manuel Miranda is Puerto Rican? No. It’s great because it bangs. By that same token, how anyone can watch I May Destroy You and not call it a brilliant work of art or Michaela Coel a genius is beyond my capacity to understand how these decisions are made.
Deborah Copaken is the author of the upcoming Ladyparts and a writer on Emily in Paris