Among the accusations the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and its annual Golden Globe Awards now face: racist nominations, category designations, and membership; a lack of attention for female filmmakers; member resistance to watching films and shows outside their apparent comfort zones; a slavish affection for celebrity; and an overweening fondness for swag.
The tiny organization is a familiar source of Hollywood derision; fewer than 100 members of uncertain provenance determine the results of an awards show that receives major media attention and millions in advertising dollars. Now, they face their greatest enemy: themselves. After a February exposé by the Los Angeles Times, followed by a series of increasingly urgent missteps followed by promises to do better, the HFPA and the Golden Globes now appear to be hurtling toward an inglorious, only-in-Hollywood end.
Here’s how they got there.
UPDATE: This article was originally published on April 21, 2021 and has been frequently updated to reflect the continuing controversies and attempts to mitigate them. The last update was on August 5, 2021.
February 21 — Los Angeles Times Investigation Accuses HFPA of Self-Dealing
The LAT story began after the November 2020 dismissal of an antitrust lawsuit from Norwegian journalist Kjersti Flaa, who accused the organization of a “culture of corruption” and claimed “the tax-exempt organization operated as a kind of cartel, barring qualified applicants — including herself — and monopolizing all-important press access while improperly subsidizing its members’ income.”
Flaa’s suit exposed potential ethical conflicts and instances of self-dealing, and the LAT story held that “questions persist around the insular association’s legitimacy, the qualifications of its members, and its ethics.”
The report also unearthed something long-suspected: The organization has no Black members, a revelation that also spoke to the recent outcry over snubs of shows like “I May Destroy You.” LAT published the exposé one week before the Golden Globes’ February 28 awards ceremony.
February 26 — Time’s Up Launches Protest Campaign
Time’s Up launches a campaign two days before the Globes to protest the organization’s lack of Black membership. Among those sharing the campaign on social media are Kerry Washington, Sterling K. Brown, Amber Tamblyn, Ellen Pompeo, Jurnee Smollett, Amy Schumer, Sean Hayes, Simon Pegg, DeVon Franklin, America Ferrera, Mark Duplass, Busy Phillips, Dakota Johnson, Patton Oswalt, and Laura Dern.
February 28 — The HFPA Responds at Golden Globes
Standing next to HFPA president Ali Sar and former HFPA president Meher Tatna at the ceremony, HFPA vice president Helen Hoehne said: “We celebrate the work of artists from around the globe. We recognize we have our own work to do. Black representation is vital. We must have Black journalists in our organization.”
Tatna added, “Everyone from all underrepresented communities [should] get a seat at our table, and we are going to make that happen.” HFPA president Ali Sar said the organization needs to “create an environment where a diverse membership is the norm, not the exception.” This portion of the live ceremony lasts for approximately 40 seconds.
March 1 — Ratings Point to Massive Drop in Golden Globes Viewership
Nielsen numbers indicated that the NBC broadcast was the lowest-rated Golden Globe Awards since it began being televised. It averaged around 5.4 million viewers and a 1.2 rating in the key 18-49 age demographic, representing more than a 60 percent decline compared to 2020.
March 6 — HFPA Promises New Diversity Efforts
In a statement, the organization promises to improve on its diversity efforts within the next 60 days.
March 9 — HFPA Hires a Diversity Consultant, Other Advisors
The HFPA announces a five-year deal with Dr. Shaun Harper, a USC professor and the founder of the USC Race and Equity Center, to serve as its Strategic Diversity Advisor. Among his responsibilities is to “conduct an audit and review of the Association’s bylaws, culture, and eligibility requirements to help us guard against any exclusionary practices and achieve a more diverse membership,” and to “create and conduct a series of anti-racism and unconscious bias training for our members.”
The HFPA also announces that Ropes & Gray would serve as outside counsel to review and assess the group’s policies, membership process, operations, governance and align the organization with industry best practices, and work on the continued development of a confidential reporting system for violations of ethical standards and code of conduct.
March 15 — Top PR Films Send HFPA Open Letter Pressing for Reform
A list of more than 100 global PR firms sign an open letter stating that without reform, the Globes can expect to lose access to their starry clients. Signatories include ID-PR, Viewpoint, 42West, Rogers & Cowan PMK, Lede PR, Narrative, Principal Communications, and many more.
March 15 — HFPA Promises to Add At Least 13 Black Members
HFPA issues a statement vowing to add at least 13 Black members before the end of the year.
April 18 — HFPA Member Declares Black Lives Matter “Racist Hate Movement”
Deadline reports that HFPA member and former eight-term president Philip Berk “sent an email that declared Black Lives Matter is a ‘racist hate movement’ and criticized co-founder Patrisse Cullors for recent real estate purchases, calling her a ‘trained Marxist.'”
April 20 — NBC Condemns Philip Berk
NBC, broadcast home of the Golden Globes, issues a statement Tuesday morning “strongly condemning” Berk’s email and calling for his immediate expulsion: “While we continue to await the details of HFPA’s upcoming plan for reform, swift action on this front is an essential element for NBC to move forward with the HFPA and the Golden Globes.”
MRC, owner of Golden Globes producer Dick Clark Prods., added: “While we remain hopeful that progress is being made and a clear, actionable roadmap is unveiled, we are deeply disappointed by this latest development. We want to reiterate publicly that there must be meaningful change defined in the May 6th plan.”
April 20 — HFPA Expels Berk
The organization announces Berk’s expulsion Tuesday afternoon: “Effective immediately, Phil Berk is no longer a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.”
April 20 — HFPA’s Crisis Communications Firm Quits
On Tuesday evening, The Hollywood Reporter reports the resignation of crisis communications firm Smith & Company, which HFPA hired in March. The Berk situation reportedly was “the last straw.” The company’s founder and CEO is Judy Smith, who is the inspiration for “Scandal” and its lead character, Olivia Pope. Smith spent five seasons as that show’s co-executive producer.
THR reports that Smith “grew increasingly frustrated by the organization’s refusal to listen to other advice and commit to concrete actions, ultimately concluding that its problems are so deep-rooted that it is a lost cause, which led her to quit Tuesday.”
April 20 — HFPA’s Diversity Consultant Quits
On the same day as Berk’s expulsion and Smith’s resignation, diversity consultant Harper also resigned after meeting with representatives of Time’s Up as well as members of PR firms who signed the open letter. THR wrote that the meeting “did not go well, with Harper being slammed for the proposal regarding 13 new Black members, and concluding that the scope of the problem is beyond what he originally understood it to be, which ultimately led to him resigning his post.”
April 20 — PR Firm Sunshine Sachs Hints at Departure
Deadline reports that the organization’s “longtime PR firm Sunshine Sachs is putting together an exit strategy of its own.” A source told Deadline, “Working with them is really starting to hurt our larger business profile and we can’t have that from any one client. … We can’t work like that.”
On Wednesday, a Sunshine Sachs insider told IndieWire, “We’re giving advocacy and civil rights organizations the chance to work with the HFPA and create foundational, much needed change, and are helping facilitate those conversations.”
May 3 — HFPA Unveils Plans for Diversity Reform
The HFPA introduced a plan that, per Variety, was crafted “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 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 percent over the next 18 months, with a stated goal of recruiting members from underrepresented groups.”
May 6 — HFPA Board Approves Plans for Diversity Reform
In an exclusive, Variety reports that “the membership of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association … approved its board’s plans to radically change the organization behind the Golden Globes. … Seventy-two members voted to approve the board’s plan, and three members voted against it.”
May 7 — More Speak Out Against HFPA
In an open letter, Netflix announces it will boycott the Golden Globes, with Ted Sarandos writing in part, “We don’t believe these proposed new policies — particularly around the size and speed of membership growth — will tackle the HFPA’s systemic diversity and inclusion challenges, or the lack of clear standards for how your members should operate. So we’re stopping any activities with your organization until more meaningful changes are made. Netflix and many of the talent and creators we work with cannot ignore the HFPA’s collective failure to address these crucial issues with urgency and rigor.”
Actor Mark Ruffalo also speaks out against the org, and is soon joined by others in the following days, including Scarlett Johansson and Tom Cruise. Amazon Studios announces its own boycott.
May 10 — WarnerMedia Announces Boycott Plans
Variety reports that key WarnerMedia execs signed and shared with reporters an open letter on Monday morning, the conglomerate writes that its leaders don’t believe that the HFPA’s plans for change, announced last week, “goes far enough in addressing the breadth of our concerns, nor does your timeline capture the immediate need by which these issues should be addressed. WarnerMedia Studios and Networks will continue to refrain from direct engagement with the HFPA, including sanctioned press conferences and invitations to cover other industry events with talent, until these changes are implemented.”
May 10 — NBC Announces It Will Not Air the 2022 Golden Globes
The Golden Globes’ official broadcast home announces that it will not host or air the org’s 2021 event.
“We continue to believe that the HFPA is committed to meaningful reform,” NBC said in a statement. “However, change of this magnitude takes time and work, and we feel strongly that the HFPA needs time to do it right. As such, NBC will not air the 2022 Golden Globes. Assuming the organization executes on its plan, we are hopeful we will be in a position to air the show in January 2023.”
August 5 — The HFPA Announces New Bylaws
After months of chatter about the org’s plan for new bylaws, the HFPA announced them in early August. The new rules are meant to “codify measures that restructure the organization along the lines of inclusion, accountability and ethics, and greater responsiveness to the film industry and the diversity of world journalism.”
The votes on the new bylaws were counted by Ernst & Young, which communicated results to the HFPA today. Passage of the bylaws immediately sets into motion an election cycle for a new, expanded Board of Directors, including the addition of outside independent directors as well as a re-accreditation process for all existing members.
The new bylaws, drafted by Ropes & Gray, LLP after extensive input from membership and outside groups, include changes directly addressing concerns raised by various stakeholders, and are as follows:
- The Southern California residency requirement is now eliminated, with any qualified journalist living in the U.S. who works for a foreign publication now eligible to apply.
- Eligibility is now expanded to journalists outside of the Motion Picture Association (MPA), and membership is now open to journalists who work in media beyond print.
- The sponsorship requirement is now eliminated, and the role of the credentials committee will include third parties from credible journalistic and other organizations focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
- New members will immediately be allowed to vote on the Golden Globes, vote on board members, and serve on committees.
- Member accreditation has been revised so that under the new process, all current members will be required to meet the standards as incoming members for re-accreditation of their membership. This process will take place annually, and members may immediately begin submitting materials to the credentials committee.
- A new grievance procedure will immediately go into effect to ensure accountability throughout the organization involving outside independent investigators. A new code of conduct will be signed by every member and subject to its provisions.
- Members will not be allowed to accept promotional materials or gifts from studios, publicists, actors, directors or others associated with motion pictures and television programs.
- The Board of Directors will now include 15 total directors – 12 active members and three who are non-members. Members will elect the 12 internal directors. The Board will then select the three outside non-members.
- The HFPA will employ new Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Human Resource Officer and Chief Diversity Officer.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion:
- The majority of the members have already completed their initial diversity, equity and inclusion training sessions.
- Members will continue to participate in monthly DEI workshops as organized by DEI consultants, and complete mandatory sexual harassment training.
- All new board and committee members will undergo DEI and leadership training for their respective roles.