A History Of The HFPA And Golden Globes’ Diversity Issue

Drunk hosts and misplaced nominees often made the Golden Globes the joke of award season. However, endless scandals regarding its lack of diversity may have become the awards’ defining characteristic. How did they reach this sad state of affairs?

Much of this criticism is tied directly to the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), an organization of journalists who vote on nominees and winners. The current 87 members represent around 55 countries, though the Los Angeles Times report that this includes three Americans who have represented China, Mexico and Germany, respectively. By contrast, the Academy Awards voting body comprises of over 9000 people, while the BAFTAs is around 6500.

Philip Berk, a former president of the organization, was expelled after calling Black Lives Matter a “racist hate movement” in an email that criticized BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors for buying a house in Topanga Canyon—a claim that has been fact-checked as false. This is not Berk’s first infraction. In 2018, the 88-year-old was accused by The Mummy actor Brendan Fraser of groping him at an event in 2003. Fraser claims he was blacklisted from Hollywood after the incident.

The HFPA stated: “Effective immediately, Phil Berk is no longer a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.” This came only weeks after reports revealed that the HFPA had not had a single Black member in over two decades.

After this came the news that Judy Smith, the real-life inspiration for Scandal‘s Olivia Pope, cut ties with the HFPA. The strategic advisory and crisis communications firm led by Smith quit due to the organization’s continued failures to address its diversity issues. And the repercussions might go beyond this.

More than 100 PR firms have threatened to block access to talent unless real changes are made. Their statement reads: “We cannot advocate for our clients to participate in HFPA events or interviews as we await your explicit plans and timeline for transformational change.”

In addition to these, Dr. Shaun Harper—a USC professor hired in March to serve as its diversity and inclusion adviser—quit. A copy of his resignation letter obtained by The Hollywood Reporter reads: “My serious, unwavering commitment to the racial and gender equity issues on which I work every day make it impossible for me to continue serving in a consulting capacity with the HFPA.”

The Golden Globes were further criticized this year for the exclusion of Minari from the major categories, because more than half the dialogue was not in English.

The lack of diversity is not exclusively a problem for the Golden Globes. The #OscarsSoWhite controversy highlighted problems in both the nominees and the voters who make up the Academy. While the overall percentage of voters remains white and male, progress is being made towards the inclusion of minorities and women.

The HFPA, however, rarely accepts new members, with only three new members being accepted in 2020. This was the cause of a lawsuit brought by Norwegian journalist Kjersti Flaa, who sued the organization for violation of anti-trust laws and fostering a “culture of corruption.” While the case was dismissed for a second time last month, it rehashed concerns around favours to members being used to buy votes. This was famously addressed by Denzel Washington while accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award for career achievement in 2016.

Despite various statements regarding their commitment to diversity, the HFPA has made headlines again after one of its voting members, South African journalist  Margaret Gardiner, asked Judas and the Black Messiah actor Daniel Kaluuya what it was like working with One Night in Miami director Regina King, apparently mistaking him for fellow Black nominee Leslie Odom Jr. The journalist took to Twitter to state that there was “no confusion” on her part, and that the misunderstanding was due to a “sound issue.”

Amongst all the criticism, the HFPA committed to “at least 13% Black membership” this year. A Time’s Up statement from president and CEO Tina Tchen responded to the commitment: “The entire world is watching.”

Words By Elisabetta Pulcini

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