Golden Globes Controversy: HFPA Members Reeling After NBC Pulls the Plug

Golden Globes Placeholder
Courtesy of HFPA/Michael Kovak

The future of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has been in question for months, ever since the Los Angeles Times exposed its loose financial practices and lack of diversity. But with NBC’s announcement on Monday that it would not broadcast the Golden Globes in 2022, it began to seem that the HFPA might not survive the crisis.

Within the group, there has been infighting over how to reform and how to respond to its critics. But there also continues to be genuine bafflement about how things escalated to this point, as well as mounting anger that the clubby organization has become the focus of Hollywood’s struggles over diversity.

In their view, much of the criticism has been opportunistic. The most resonant detail from the Times’ report was the revelation that none of the HFPA’s nearly 90 members are Black, a fact which has been public information since at least 2013.

“They have known us for 30, 40, 50 years,” one member told Variety this week. “How could this have been a surprise?”

Many HFPA members contacted by Variety declined to comment or referred calls to Sunshine Sachs, the organization’s PR firm, as they had been instructed to do during an all-members meeting on Monday afternoon. But the half dozen who did comment argued that the organization — which is made up of entertainment correspondents, many representing European outlets and some semi- or fully retired — is being scapegoated for America’s racial issues.

“Maybe as an organization we were self-absorbed, and not thinking about the political correctness and the climate in this country,” said the member, who asked not to be identified. “We are not a racist organization. This is a racist country. Pointing fingers at us now — and saying you should have 13% Black members — it’s ridiculous.”

Several also noted that a coalition of over 100 Hollywood publicity firms — which have led the charge against the HFPA — do not have particularly diverse staffs either.

“Shame on the publicists, to be so hypocritical,” the member said.

The publicists’ group countered that the HFPA members are avoiding the real issues, which go beyond the lack of Black voters. They say that the HFPA has had a long history of ignoring films and shows from Black creators and people of color, failing to show up to screenings and press conferences for critically acclaimed projects such as “Girls Trip,” “Queen & Slim,” and “When They See Us.” When they did show up, their clients were often subjected to lines of questioning that they felt were demeaning.

Studios and publicity firms say that they had urged the HFPA to make changes years ago, but those suggestions were ignored.

“The HFPA is clearly trying to deflect the real issue, and their own responsibility,” says Jackie Bazan, founder & president, BazanPR and BazanED. “There is no defense against or deflection from decades of systemic racism, sexism, erasure and homophobia, that has permeated this organization for far too long, with no independent attempt at reform. The HFPA sits in judgement of the creative work of others, their membership historically opting to exclude the work of BIPOC talent, making or breaking careers in the process, and practicing egregious behavior, all the while collecting millions of dollars for the Globes.”

The publicists’ coalition did not divulge its own diversity statistics, but did acknowledge that firms must take steps to hire more people of color and members of marginalized communities.

“In this moment, every company must look inward, or should be, to effectively make changes to level the playing field for all marginalized communities,” says Cindi Berger, chairman of R&CPMK. “We are committed, and actively involved in our own ranks to prioritize diversity, inclusion and equity. Many of us have robust initiatives underway to address this and have for some time. That said, we acknowledge there is much work to be done in our own houses. This is an industry-wide issue and we look within and outward to our industry partners in pressing for a safer and fully representative culture.”

Judy Solomon, an HFPA member from Israel since 1956, argued that the press is “jumping on top of the HFPA — and you had fun doing it.” She said the group could adapt to the times, if allowed to do so.

“You have to give it a chance,” she said. “The local paper has to give it a chance, which they haven’t. Give it a chance… I think we did do something good.”

Solomon, 89, was president of the group in the early 1980s, and for many years was responsible for the Golden Globes seating chart. She has retired from writing, but still votes on the awards. Like others in the organization, she said the membership is diverse.

“We have Chinese. We have Japanese. We have different things,” she said. “We don’t have people who are Black-skinned for a very simple reason — because nobody applied.”

She added that few publications from smaller countries are willing to pay for original reporting on Hollywood, since they can get wire stories for $20 or $30.

“Where are we going to find them?” she asked. “Do you know any Black journalists who write for foreign countries in Hollywood?”

Solomon corrected herself about the absence of applicants. As The Wrap reported in 2013, Samantha Ofole-Prince, a Black reporter from the U.K., was denied admission that year. The Wrap’s story also noted that the group had no Black members. Solomon repeated to Variety what she had said then, that the applicant did not provide enough clips for membership. However, 33 members voted to admit her, apparently finding her clips sufficient.

“I hope they find someone,” Solomon said. “I have never cared about color.”

Over the last five years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — which runs the Oscars — has welcomed thousands of new members in order to dramatically diversify its ranks. These efforts followed the #OscarsSoWhite crisis in 2015, when all 20 acting nominations went to white actors. The Academy also recently set diversity requirements for all best picture nominees, which will take effect in 2024.

The HFPA did not take similar measures.

However, HFPA members dismissed the idea that they failed to add Black journalists because of racism. Regarding prejudice, Solomon noted that she had grown up in Romania, and spent her 10th birthday in a concentration camp in Murafa, in nearby Ukraine.

“I suffered — from religion,” she said. “I suffered.”

Two other members, who also asked not to be identified, said they were worried that their association with the HFPA would hurt their professional careers. They noted that the publicity firms and studios that had once fallen over themselves to give them access to their clients in the hopes of securing Globes nominations, are now unlikely to return their calls. One member also argued that the group was being made a scapegoat for systemic issues in the industry and pushed back at suggestions that the HFPA had shoddy ethical guidelines. The Times story also echoed criticisms that have been raised repeatedly over the years regarding HFPA members’ acceptance of gifts from studios and travel for studio-sponsored junkets.

“Other journalists do the same thing,” the member said. “Most of us are good journalists, but that’s not how we’re being written about in the press. It’s very unfair.”

Many news organizations prohibit employees from accepting travel and gifts from companies they cover, but those restrictions don’t apply to all outlets. However, people familiar with the HFPA say that the group’s members didn’t just have a thirst for freebies and a penchant for studio-sponsored buffets. They also had a habit of appearing unprepared at press conferences or making comments to talent that were seen as inappropriate, even occasionally ones that bordered on sexual harassment. The publicity firms argue that they are under pressure from the artists they represent to boycott the Globes.

“The unprecedented coming together of over 101 diverse PR firms on behalf of the clients we represent, an astounding number of which are people of color, as well as qualified journalists of color who have been marginalized by this group, is what this is about,” says Ivette Rodriguez, founder & president of AEM | Marketing Inc. and co-founder of LA Collab. “If this past year has taught us anything, it is that it’s time for all of us and our industry to meet the moment, and fight for much needed change and equal opportunity for all talent and all artists.”

The member who noted that the latest revelations should not come as a surprise also expressed support for bringing in new members, but added that it would take time to implement reforms. The member also worried that not having the award show next year could spell doom for the organization.

“People get used to not having Golden Globes,” the member said. “Now we’re talking about 2023. That’s a long time away.”

But Solomon seemed confident that any rift with NBC would be temporary.

“There are many other (broadcasters) that will take something which is legitimate,” she said. “So: big deal. If everything is fine, do you think any other one wouldn’t pick them up? Please… No one is going to win if it disappears.”