Public speaker, educator and entrepreneur Neil Phillips has been tapped by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to serve as its first-ever chief diversity officer. The hiring is the latest step in the organization’s reform process, started earlier this year in the wake of backlash to the HFPA’s lack of Black members, questionable operational practices and lack of accountability.
Phillips 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. Phillips, who co-founded the school, resigned his position in February — reportedly following a dispute with his fellow co-founders. Phillips is also the founder of Visible Men, an organization focused on nurturing and supporting young Black boys.
At the HFPA, Phillips will play “an integral part of its continuing commitment to implementing reforms to promote greater diversity, equity, and inclusion both within the organization and within broader Hollywood and journalism communities,” the organization said.
“Neil brings a powerful voice for inclusion and diversity not just to the HFPA, but also to the Hollywood community and media industry,” said Helen Hoehne, HFPA president. “Through our reform process, we believe it is not sufficient to just make progress internally, but also necessary to provide a platform for greater diversity and inclusion in our industry and the entertainment community our members cover. His willingness to talk openly about uncomfortable subjects and lead by example makes him an exceptional voice for change and we look forward to supporting his work.”
Phillips is an Aspen Institute Education Entrepreneurship Fellow and a member of the inaugural Echoing Green/Open Society Foundation Black Male Achievement Fellowship. He has also won the Nantucket Project Audience Award multiple times, including for a talk on race in America (“Race to Truth”) and on-stage conversations with Norman Lear and former President George W. Bush. He is also working on a documentary with The Nantucket Project about on race and Black male achievement.
“The HFPA has welcomed me and given me the opportunity to work not only with them, but the broader Hollywood and media industries that have struggled to discuss these issues of race openly and candidly without fear,” Phillips said. “I have always believed love is the answer to just about everything and if that makes people uncomfortable, that’s okay because discomfort signals an opportunity for growth and discussion. I’ve spent my entire career managing my own discomfort and diving deeply into the realm of breaking the bonds of systemic racism and having the uncomfortable, yet productive, conversations that can radically change organizations and individual lives.”
Phillips’ hiring os part of the promise made by the HFPA last spring to bring in a chief diversity officer in a permanent leadership position. He will take over for Leadership Lab International, which has worked as the HFPA’s diversity, equity and inclusion consultants since June.
“We are so appreciative of the work that LLI has done, and grateful for Neil’s willingness to collaborate with them, to ensure a seamless transition as we evolve our organization to make this a permanent role at the HFPA,” Hoehne said. “LLI has helped us to change the way we think and communicate as an organization, and we are grateful for them.”
The move comes as the HFPA gears up to announce nominations for this year’s Golden Globes, which will not be televised. The organization has not yet revealed how it will handle the 2022 awards, but it’s expected a muted announcement, such as a press release, will replace the normal pomp and circumstance.