O’Reilly: HFPA chief dedicated to empowerment

Women's Impact Report 2011: Aida Takla O'Reilly

Aida Takla O’Reilly, the newly elected president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., leads an organization that has long been a ground-breaker for female leadership, with seven previous women presidents, including a stint by O’Reilly from 1994-96.

Not only has the HFPA been run by women, its approximately 90-strong membership continues to give voice to female members while reflecting its global nature. “We represent a diversity of cultures,” says O’Reilly, who is Egyptian-born and fluent in Arabic and French.

A lifelong film fan and student of film history, O’Reilly is not immune to the effects of negative stereotypes conveyed by Hollywood. As a Cal State professor, she proudly recalls developing curriculum that examined minority images in cinema.

As prexy, O’Reilly says she plans an “administrative makeover” by getting more members “empowered and involved in governance,” while helping focus more attention on what she describes as a “three-dimensional organization of journalism, philanthropy and the Golden Globes.”

The org’s influence is tremendous, given the importance of the Globes to the studios and networks. The kudocast rivals the Oscars in its star wattage, and attracted 17 million viewers the last two years. In this regard, O’Reilly cites the HFPA’s decades-long mission to “growing American culture (around) the world” via promoting films and television.

Long-seen as a colorful assortment of multinational journos by its supporters, while also assailed by critics with charges of clubbiness, questionable tastes and voting methodology, O’Reilly’s tenure will require all her skills and decades of HFPA expertise. There’s an ongoing legal battle with Dick Clark Prods. over broadcast-rights issues related to the HFPA’s Globes kudocast, as well as an unresolved legal dispute with a former publicist who has charged the org with compromised business practices. Then there’s Ricky Gervais.

O’Reilly brushes off the controversies like lint off a Chanel suit, choosing instead to accentuate the positive. “It’s counterproductive to focus on negativity; it hampers you and slows you down,” she says. She sees her own role in leading the organization as focused on tone and intentions: “I want to reach out and let the world know we are hard-working people, not frivolous.”

Title: President of the HFPA
Role model: Her parents for instilling in O’Reilly the importance of education.
Career mantra: “To empower my students not what to think but teach them how to think.”
Leisure pursuits: “I swim every day.”
Philanthropic passion: “Funding inner-city educational programs for those with the most economic need.”

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