With Sunday’s Golden Globes ceremony rapidly approaching, preparations for the annual show would normally be at a fever pitch. Stars would be fitting themselves for gowns and tuxedos and practicing their red carpet sound bites, while Hollywood would be buzzing with questions about who will take home the prizes.
Instead, with the pandemic forcing the 78th Golden Globes to be held virtually, the famously loose and star-packed show’s glitz and glamour will be dampened. And in the wake of a Times investigation that raised fresh questions about the 87-member Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., which doles out the awards, some believe the very future of the Globes could be in jeopardy if the organization doesn’t undertake reforms.
While the HFPA has worked to burnish its image in recent years, largely through increased charitable donations, Times reporting revealed the group is still struggling to shake its reputation that the voters are easily swayed by high-priced junkets in exotic locales and cozy relationships with studios, networks and A-listers. Even as the HFPA fended off allegations brought in an antitrust lawsuit by Norwegian journalist Kjersti Flaa, some of the group’s own members have raised mounting criticisms of its alleged ethical lapses and self-dealing. The HFPA has said the allegations are unproven and “simply repeat old tropes” about the organization. (Flaa’s suit was dismissed by a federal judge in November. An amended motion is pending.)
The Times investigation also highlighted the fact that the group currently has no Black members, further fueling criticism over this year’s Globes picks, which didn’t include any of this year’s Black-led awards contenders, such as “Da 5 Bloods,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Judas and the Black Messiah” and “One Night in Miami,” in nominations for the group’s best picture award.
In a statement to the Times on Thursday, an HFPA representative said, “We are fully committed to ensuring our membership is reflective of the communities around the world who love film, tv and the artists inspiring and educating them. We understand that we need to bring in Black members, as well as members from other underrepresented backgrounds, and we will immediately work to implement an action plan to achieve these goals as soon as possible.”
The absence of any Black members in a group that votes on one of the industry’s most high-profile awards has drawn widespread attention on social media and elsewhere.
Director Ava DuVernay, a Golden Globe nominee for “Selma,” took to Twitter in response to a headline in the Hollywood Reporter that read “L.A. Times Reveals HFPA Has Zero Black Members,” writing, “Reveals? As in, people are acting like this isn’t already widely known? For YEARS?”
“One Night in Miami” director Regina King, who this year became the first Black woman since DuVernay to receive a Globes directing nod, responded with a gif of the rapper Drake pointing and smiling.
An HFPA representative said the group welcomes all journalists from all ethnic and cultural backgrounds based in Southern California who write for international media to apply, noting the membership is majority female and that more than 35% is from non-European countries. Further, the HFPA has not ruled out changing its rules to widen the pool of applicants.
In 2013, the HFPA rejected a Black applicant, British-based Samantha Ofole-Prince, a decision that was the subject of some controversy within the group, according to the Wrap. In an interview soon after, then-HFPA President Theo Kingma was asked about the group’s lack of Black members, telling the Wrap, “There is nobody [Black] because they can’t afford to come and live here. I’ve been a member for 21 years, and I can promise you I’ve never ever heard anything racial.”
In an interview on Thursday, Kingma said he was working to address the absence of Black members in the voting body. “It is something that we should give a serious look at; times have changed, but sadly our bylaws don’t change as quickly,” he said, noting it takes two-thirds of the membership to approve changes.
In regards to Ofole-Prince, Kingma said, “Sadly, she didn’t fulfill the [bylaws] requirements. … Her publications paid her less than European publications, and she couldn’t make a living here, which was more the reason to accept her. HFPA access would have really helped her.”
It is unclear to what extent the renewed criticisms will impact the telecast. A source close to the show said Thursday cohosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler will finalize their monologue over the next couple of days but offered no details.
The show, which airs on NBC, is expected to highlight the HFPA’s charitable work, which included more than $5 million in grants last year. The hunger relief nonprofit Feeding America is a “philanthropic partner” on this year’s show, and a number of frontline and essential workers as well as food bank workers have been invited by the HFPA to attend the ceremony.
A representative for NBCUniversal, which paid the HFPA $27.4 million in licensing fees last fiscal year, declined to comment for this story, as did Dick Clark Productions, which partners with the HFPA in producing the show.
A person at NBCUniversal familiar with the matter but not authorized to comment publicly said the network supports the HFPA’s plan of action on diversity. The person also said NBCUniversal expects any supplier of programming to conduct themselves with integrity and act within the law and that the company has no reason to believe the HFPA has acted illegally or unethically in any way.
Meanwhile, a number of Hollywood insiders have weighed in with criticism of their own.
In response to a tweet about the investigation from film journalist Mark Harris, producer Lynda Obst, whose credits include movies such as “Interstellar” and shows such as “Good Girls Revolt,” wrote Sunday that the Globes were “a sham supported by the marketing departments of studios and now streamers.”
Obst followed up hours later, tweeting, with upside-down smiley-face and laughing emojis, “I want to make it clear as a bell that as a producer I love the Golden Globes and that the HFPA is full of buddies of mine from all over the world whom I love and plan to continue wining and dining as I have for decades into eternity!”
Television showrunner Glen Mazzara, whose credits include “The Shield” and “The Walking Dead,” wrote on Twitter following the investigation: “If Hollywood really wants change like they say they do, everyone would simply boycott this year’s show. Instead, I suspect it’ll be business as usual, with people using their acceptance speeches as soapboxes. We do love to pontificate, don’t we?”
Variety editor in chief Claudia Eller penned an op-ed, writing that, in light of the Times stories, the HFPA needs to make changes to address longstanding concerns over its ethics and practices. “I only hope that as millions of us tune in to watch Sunday’s show, the organization responsible for handing out the honors is busy planning to make all of the substantial changes needed to actually clean up its act — as it has vowed to do for far too many years,” Eller wrote.
In the days following publication of its stories, the Times has received a number of emails from people working inside the industry who have shared their own dim views of the HFPA. One longtime publicist — who has dealt with the group for decades and who like others declined to be identified for fear of reprisals — called the group’s members “overly demanding and spoiled children,” adding, “It still puzzles me why studios placate this group whose award is meaningless.” Another veteran film publicist who is a member of both the film and television academies wrote, “I hope this buries them and their meaningless awards.”
Many of the criticisms of the HFPA’s ethics and practices have long been known, and jibes at the group have been lobbed directly from the stage of its own telecast. Hosting the awards in 2016, Ricky Gervais dismissed the Globes as “worthless,” cracking that it amounts to little more than an excuse for HFPA members to take selfies with stars. In a nod to the organization’s somewhat shadowy nature, Fey and Poehler engaged in a running joke while hosting in 2013 in which they confused the HFPA with the sexually transmitted infection HPV. “The HFPA can lead to cervical cancer,” Poehler said, deadpan.
Despite the renewed controversy swirling around the HFPA, which follows a long history of scandals the group has weathered, the Globes continue to play a critical role in awards season, and millions of dollars are devoted by the studios every year trying to leverage the awards as a marketing tool for Oscar hopefuls. As one longtime film publicist said, “Whether it’s film or TV, it’s really hard for there to be sophisticated adult fare without awards. You need as much as you can get.”
Indeed, while some believe the continued negative attention will further damage the HFPA unless reforms are undertaken, there is a powerful financial incentive throughout Hollywood to protect the Globes, continuing to pass the show off as fun and not of huge consequence even as it represents serious business in which millions of dollars are invested annually.
Asked if the findings of the Times investigation could snowball into a bigger PR crisis for the HFPA — and, by extension, NBC and every other Hollywood entity that participates in the Globes — one seasoned PR veteran said: “It could, but they are such an anomaly when it comes to their scandals and poor behavior. They get called out, but then everyone says, ‘Oh, it’s the HFPA, so no surprise.’ “
Nonetheless, this source concluded, “Their stock is sinking.”
Times staff writers Stephen Battaglio, Stacy Perman and Glenn Whipp contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.