After spending much of this year promising and then implementing various reforms, the first test of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.’s evolution may come on Dec. 13. That’s when the org will announce the 79th Annual Golden Globe Awards nominations, at 6 a.m. PT from the Beverly Hilton.
How and what that might look like remains a bit of a mystery, however, as the HFPA is continuing to power through with some sort of Globes announcement or presentation on Jan. 9, 2022 — even though there won’t be a live telecast on NBC. That has some in the industry wondering whether the HFPA is really committed to change, or just eager to get back to business as usual. The make up of this year’s nominees — and whether the HFPA’s expanded membership drive makes a difference in diverse representation — could make it further evident whether real change is happening.
But in an interview this week with Variety, the HFPA’s new chief diversity officer, Neil Phillips, warns the industry not to expect an overnight overhaul.
“The danger is expecting there to be a sort of immediate fix,” he said. “If the HFPA is seen giving a certain number of awards to talent of color, creatives of color, then the HFPA is fixed. It just doesn’t work that way. The notion of thinking that this is going to be some quick fix as a result of what awards are handed out in the coming weeks, that’s not what we should be looking for.”
Phillips, a Florida-based public speaker, educator and entrepreneur, was hired last month as the HFPA’s first-ever chief diversity officer. He is the founder of Visible Men, an organization focused on nurturing and supporting young Black boys. And he most recently served as president and CEO of the Bradenton, Fla., charter school Visible Men Academy, a tuition-free elementary program for at-risk boys of color, until leaving in February following a dispute with his fellow co-founders.
Now Phillips is splitting his time between Florida and Los Angeles, where he has been on what he calls a “listening tour,” getting up to speed on the controversies surrounding the HFPA while taking over for Leadership Lab International, which has worked as the HFPA’s diversity, equity and inclusion consultants since June.
Aiming to address diversity, ethics and accountability issues that have long swirled around the organization the org has added 21 new members, named a new president (German journalist Helen Hoehne), a new Board of Directors, with the addition of three outside non-members, 12 member directors, and a credentials committee with five non-members and an advisory board. Also, Todd Boehly was named interim CEO of HFPA; it’s Boehly who recruited Phillips to the org.
“I started to become more acquainted with what was happening over the last several months and started sharing some thoughts with Todd,” Phillips said. “The more I learned about Todd and particularly Helen’s commitment to really taking a look at what was happening with the organization and what needed to happen, the more confident I became that this was an organization that was doing all the right things, to recognize its missteps and shortcomings and to do something about it.”
The following is an edited conversation with Phillips that touches on what he plans to focus on first, and where the challenges remain for the HFPA.
What did you know about the HFPA and the Golden Globes prior to joining?
Truthfully, I didn’t know much about the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, nor the Golden Globes, other than I’m a consumer of film and television. My wife and I are avid movie goers, and we’re binge watchers and she is very plugged into the entertainment scenes. So she knew so much more about this realm than I did. But just through the normal course of paying attention to the national headlines, and the work that I do, you’re never far from broader reaching issues of diversity, equity, human value, inclusion, all of those things. I’ve been immersed in those issues for a long time. And through that, I was certainly aware of the challenges that the HFPA was encountering. Not intimately, but just familiar with them.
What were some of the early concerns you had for Todd and your first impressions as you started to look into the HFPA?
You really want to get a sense that the activity that comes from the negative exposure, is not purely born from a reactionary spirit. That those commitments aren’t just, ‘this is what we need to do to get the spotlight off of us.’ You want to get a clear sense that ‘this is what we need to do to make our organization better.’ When you find that an organization has fallen short in one particular area in terms of its composition, it’s a quick, and easy to say well, you don’t have enough black members, you don’t have enough women, whatever the case may be. But when you step back, usually the reasons for that can be tied to some structural obstacles, a commitment that is not as deep rooted and ingrained as it needs to be. So when I saw and became acquainted with the structural changes that were happening, that gave me great confidence that yeah, this is how we hope an organization responds to these kinds of challenges. To not just react and run for cover, but to make itself better.
One criticism is that sure, the HFPA has expanded, but it’s still mostly made up of the same members. How can that lead to lasting change if it’s mostly the same set of leaders who were with the organization before?
I would differ with that notion. The HFPA has increased its membership by 25% over the course of recent months. And that’s significantly larger than any addition that the organization has made in its past. That’s substantial. And then when you look at steps, there’s three new board members who are non members, it’s the first time that’s happened. Two of them are people of color. It just feels to me, with Helen, relatively recently appointed as president, Todd and his role, their commitment to the chief diversity officer role and now filling it, I would disagree with the idea that it’s the same people. I think that from a membership perspective, sure, there are a lot of the same people who have been members for a while, but I think there were certainly enough of us on board to join with those existing members to help reimagine, reconstitute and and rollout a new and different HFPA.
What have you found in talking to people in the industry about the HFPA? When you’re looking to work with new partners are you facing pushback or people not wanting to work with the HFPA right now due to the organization’s previous reputation?
I haven’t encountered much of that sentiment of, ‘We don’t want to touch the HFPA.’ I know that I will. There’s no doubt that I will as I continue my efforts to speak with folks and executives in the industry, I’m sure I’m going to encounter that and I understand that. But I’m going to benefit from hearing their perspective. And I also hope that they’re going to benefit from hearing my thoughts about the path forward. We’ve got to leave a path for individuals and organizations who have misstepped or transgressed. There’s got to be a path to reform and reforming and improving. I believe the HFPA is doing that. I’m encountering folks who are saying, ‘Look, we know that the HFPA made mistakes, and they were called out for that and rightfully so.’ And the good news is that the organization is responding. And we know that some of the problems that we’re seeing that the HFPA is being held accountable for, those are problems that exist far beyond this organization.
Diversity and inclusion is indeed an issue for the entertainment and journalism industries as well. How challenging is it to find journalists of color who write for international outlets in the U.S. and recruiting more members into the HFPA fold?
I can’t think of an industry that isn’t impacted by these issues and that doesn’t encounter challenges and that doesn’t need to improve in some ways. And for one of the areas, it’s a convenient and an easy thing to say we can’t find enough. ‘We can’t find enough women to be corporate executives. We can’t find enough Black journalists. We can’t find enough insert group here.’ And to me, frankly, that’s a cop out. We’ve got to look differently, and we’ve got to look in different places and in different ways. If we are committed to identifying people who have been underrepresented. We’ve got to think differently about how we’re looking. That is a truth that expands far beyond the HFPA and far beyond this particular industry. So when I look at the HFPA’s efforts, and I look at their new member outreach, the alterations that they’ve made, so they’ve they’ve made adjustments to requirements around accreditation. They’ve eliminated geographic requirements, they’ve expanded the number of press clippings, from an international publication or outlet over a longer period of time. So these are exactly the sorts of things that you need to do to expand the pool of folks who have previously been underrepresented.
Have you spoken yet to any of the Golden Globe partners, including NBC?
Not yet, but I’m in the process of scheduling. On the day of my announcement, a couple of folks reached out and so we have been back and forth about scheduling. Coming on board around Thanksgiving and the holiday break in December means that windows are kind of tight. So it’s been a little difficult to schedule time, but I’m optimistic that that’s going to happen, and so I will be involved in those conversations.
Lay out to me your plans for the next year, what will you be focusing on first?
I really want to convey internally within the HFPA, but also beyond, a real commitment to doing much more than helping HFPA emerge from a crisis. I’m not here to help weather the storm and I don’t believe this position was created to help the HFPA get through a difficult time. The position and the opportunities go far, far beyond that. And so I want to be conveying that internally and externally, that our emergence and our reforming, that is all designed to help position the HFPA to expand its impact in television, and film and entertainment in general. And I believe with partnership, like the reimagined coalition with the NAACP, the expansiveness of these opportunities to not just provide fellowships and mentoring opportunities and internships, to aspiring creatives. That’s a huge dimension of it. But then there’s so many other aspects of it that can really help to elevate the industry to have tremendous impact on diversity, equity inclusion, not just here in Hollywood, here in the industry, but far beyond. So I want to be talking that kind of language that is really aspirational, that commits us to something significantly higher than just emerging from a crisis. And so I’m going to be spending a lot of time thinking about how that happens.
How important will this year’s Golden Globe nominations be in setting the tone for where things stand with the HFPA?
What we should be looking for is, does the process and do the awards, are they aligned with the work that the HFPA is doing to reveal its commitment to authentic diversity, equity and inclusion? I’m confident that they will be. But the big thing, is looking at this through a longer-term lens. Do I think that these upcoming nominations and awardees and grants are important? Of course I do. But do I think that they’re some sort of final answer? I don’t believe that they will be that, nor should they be looked at as that.