The group behind the Golden Globe Awards introduced a plan on Monday to increase the number of Black members and people of color within its organization, as well as proposed restrictions on the gifts its voters can accept and the payment they receive for their work on committees.
The moves come as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the small group of journalists who award the annual honors, finds itself in a public relations and organizational crisis. It’s one that threatens to destroy the group’s relationship with the A-list talent that makes its telecast “appointment viewing,” which, in turn, secures the nonprofit a lucrative television contract courtesy of NBC and Dick Clark Productions.
The board of the HFPA, which has fewer than 90 members, said it wants to admit 20 new members in 2021, with a specific focus on recruiting Black members. It wants to increase the membership by 50% over the next 18 months, with a stated goal of recruiting members from underrepresented groups. It’s unclear if the new measures will be enough to quell the firestorm that threatens to engulf the group and end one of the entertainment industry’s most-watched awards shows. It’s not even certain that they will be approved by the wider membership, which could leave the proposals DOA.
“These past few months have been difficult for us all, and we appreciate your understanding and patience through this transformative period in our industry. For the past 60 days we have worked hard to come up with a plan of action — culling ideas from the members as well as outside entities — to present a cohesive, comprehensive proposal,” the HFPA’s board wrote in a letter announcing the changes. “We have engaged in much-needed, deep introspection with the help and guidance of our outside advisors, experts in diversity and inclusion, and our media partners. Together, we have created a roadmap for transformational change in our organization.”
If the new moves are not approved in a “timely” manner and implemented by the members, the board said it “will take more serious measures, including but not limited to the Board resigning.”
The HFPA has been in a defensive posture since a February report in the Los Angeles Times revealed that none of its 86 members are Black. The report also drew attention to the group’s “culture of corruption,” one that saw entertainment companies ply members with hotel stays, dinners and trips in order to curry favor for projects they hoped would get nominations.
In response, more than 100 public relations firms, including such heavy hitters as 42West, ID, The Lede Company and Rogers & Cowan/PMK, threatened to cut off access to their clients unless reforms were implemented.
These new measures cannot go into effect unless the full membership ratifies them, and even if they are endorsed, it’s unclear how these public relations firms and their clients will greet the announcement. A few key constituents seemed to give their seal of approval, however. Dick Clark Productions, the producer of the telecast, and NBCUniversal, the company that airs the show, issued statements praising the moves, but suggesting that they wanted to make sure the reforms were implemented.
“We are encouraged by the detailed and thorough nature of the plan unveiled today by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association,” Dick Clark Productions said. “We are hopeful the members commit to this and the actions necessary to build a transparent and inclusive future, which will have a tremendous impact on the organization and the art they honor.”
“HFPA’s proposed plan is an encouraging step in the right direction,” NBCUniversal said. “It outlines the thorough reforms that are critical for our continued relationship, and we appreciate the commitment that it demonstrates by the association’s leadership. The organization’s swift adoption and meaningful execution of the plan in its entirety are essential for the Golden Globes to remain on NBC.”
The HFPA’s board said it wants to open its membership to more journalists, including ones who work in media aside from print, as well as eliminate the requirement that members sponsor applicants. They will also remove restrictions on the number of members admitted per year, involve third parties in the process of determining who gets accepted, and eliminate the southern California residency requirement to enable any journalist living in the U.S. who works for a foreign publication to join. These measures seek to address accusations that the group is overly exclusive and clubby, accessible to only those journalists with the right contact.
It’s been a bruising few weeks for the HFPA as it has sought to contain the fallout from the crisis over its lack of diversity. Last month, the group expelled Philip Berk, a former eight-term HFPA president, after he sent an email to members quoting an article that called the Black Lives Matter organization a “racist hate movement.” Berk had previously been accused of sexually assaulting the actor Brendan Fraser, but was allowed to remain a member after the HFPA investigated the incident and determined it was a joke. As part of the new measures, the HFPA said it will introduce an anonymous, third-party hotline for people to report any misconduct.
Even before the latest crisis, the HFPA has been accused of a number of ethical lapses in the past. In 2011, the HFPA’s former publicist Michael Russell sued the organization, accusing its members of engaging in a “payola” scheme. The group’s frequently bizarre journalistic output, as well as its penchant for recognizing the likes of “Burlesque” and Pia Zadora have raised questions about its seriousness of purpose and susceptibility to studio influence.
But it has been its lack of diversity that has shaken the group’s foundation in a way those past scandals did not. That’s partly due to the fact that while other awards bodies, such as the Oscars, have taken steps to add more members of color to its ranks, and as Hollywood has undergone a reckoning over inclusion, the HFPA has refused to change with the times.
Now, as part of its effort to move in step with the industry, the HFPA’s board said it wants to hire a chief diversity, equity & inclusion officer, as well as establish an independent review committee of “racially and ethnically diverse members who will advise the Board and oversee critical organizational reform.” Under the new guidelines, board positions would no longer be lifetime appointments, and would instead be two-year terms.
In its letter to members, the HFPA’s board said it viewed the changes as part of a “reimagination of our organization.”
“We must meet this moment, knowing that if we join together in support, we can become a better organization and, with hard work, an example of diversity, transparency and accountability in the industry for others to follow, just as our founders imagined almost 80 years ago,” the board wrote.