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Golden Globes Getty 1.jpg

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association is Utterly Unsalvageable

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Film | May 11, 2021 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Film | May 11, 2021 |

Golden Globes Getty 1.jpg

To spectators of the entertainment industry, it seems kind of surprising that it took this long for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to implode. The organization behind the Golden Globes has always stood at a peculiar precipice in the worlds of film and tv and journalism. While the HFPA sells itself as a non-profit dedicated to supporting foreign journalists based in Los Angeles, its status has long gone beyond that of like-minded groups. Recent developments, which revealed the organization’s total absence of Black members as well as the racist rhetoric of its former president, have led to a major reckoning for the HFPA. While the members have promised massive reforms, nobody seems to believe they’ll actually happen. Netflix and Amazon Studios said their plans were insufficient. Scarlett Johansson called out the sexism of their membership. NBC pulled the plug on hosting the 2022 Golden Globes, and even Tom Cruise got in on the backlash, returning his three Best Actor awards. On top of that, an investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that the HFPA regularly pays its 87 members in excess of $1 million annually for serving on various committees, which may jeopardize its status as a tax-exempt non-profit organization.

The HFPA continues to insist that things will get better, that they’re learning their lesson and making big changes that will satisfy everyone. Skepticism, however, is rampant, and for good reason. Now, it feels like the industry’s long bottled-up disdain for the HFPA is getting an outlet. And now, there are new questions to be asked: Can the Hollywood Foreign Press Association be fixed, and is it worth saving?

For me, the answer to both parts is a resounding no. Get rid of the HFPA. Just let it die. It is an irredeemable mess of corruption, star-sucking, racism, misogyny, and utter disregard for both art and journalism. Let it go the way of the dodo.

The problem with the HFPA is that one cannot fix something that was built on faulty ground. The HFPA did not start out with corrupt intentions, but there were hardly altruistic intentions behind the foundation of their most notable offering to the entertainment world. Founded in 1943, the organization was a way for foreign journalists based in Los Angeles to strengthen the distributing process of cinema news to non-U.S. markets. The Golden Globes came a year later, with their first ceremony taking place at the studios of 20th Century Fox. By sheer coincidence, that year’s big winner, The Song of Bernadette, was a 20th Century Fox release.

The Globes are hardly the only awards body heavily influenced by studio interference. Hello, the Oscars. What makes the HFPA so uniquely awful on this front is how blatantly willing they are to be ‘encouraged’ into certain decisions. Aside from the awards themselves, the HFPA has spent the past several decades being defined in the public eye by their openness to what is essentially bribery. This is hardly a new development either. In 1958, a mere 15 years after the HFPA’s founding, Former HFPA president Henry Gris resigned from the board after he claimed that “certain awards are being given more or less as favors.”

There are too many instances of Globe bribery to count. Remember when The Tourist was nominated for Best Comedy/Musical despite it being a spy thriller? And in the same year the lambasted Burlesque received a smattering of nominations? It was reported that HFPA members had been offered an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas by Sony, culminating in a concert by Cher. Sharon Stone sent out Coach watches to all 88 members of the HFPA as a ‘gift’ while she was campaigning for The Muse. They were forced to return them after the press got wind of her ‘generosity.’ Perhaps most infamously, the Globes awarded the New Star of the Year trophy to Pia Zadora for Butterfly, despite both her performance and the film being critically reviled. It soon emerged that Zadora’s husband, the exceedingly rich businessman Meshulam Riklis, flew voting members to his casino in Vegas, followed by a lavish lunch at his estate.

It’s not just about the blatant bribes either. The overblown status of the Golden Globes as some sign of critical importance has led to studios kowtowing to the HFPA’s proud ineptitude. In a 2010 editorial, Peter Howell of the Toronto Star alleged that HFPA members steal time from other journalists at press events because the studio wanted their stars to curry favor with Golden Globe voters. Former HFPA president Philip Berk even admitted in his memoir that actors who gave them the time of day were more likely to be nominated than those who didn’t. Berk, by the way, is the man who Brendan Fraser accused of sexually assaulting him. He was recently removed from the HFPA for racism.

Many have questioned if these members even care about the work of entertainment journalism. HFPA members are notorious for bragging about the famous actors they’ve met. Director Ava DuVernay shared a story wherein the HFPA held a poorly attended press conference for her miniseries When They See Us. She said, ‘Based on the quality of their questions, I jokingly asked “Have any of you seen the series?” Crickets. More came in the room when the pix were to be taken, at which time two peddled their scripts.’

The journalistic merit of the HFPA has been widely questioned. While there are many legitimate and celebrated foreign entertainment journalists among their ranks, a lot of questions remain over the rest. The HFPA was forced to launch an investigation into one member after a purported interview with Drew Barrymore in EgyptAir’s in-flight magazine went viral for its error-filled, badly spelled, and straight-up nasty content. Barrymore’s own reps had to step in and assert that she never gave an interview to this guy. Some don’t seem to have any bylines at all. One former member was a Russian bodybuilder who joined the HFPA because he was ‘just plain curious.’

So, why do people put up with the Globes? How have they elbowed their way to a position of such prestige even though we’ve all widely agreed that they’re ridiculous? There seems to be begrudging respect for the HFPA’s ability to force their way to the top of the pile from a position as total outsiders. The Globes ceremony is typically considered a fun night for the industry, looser and more casual than the Oscars. We all know that awards are kind of silly, but if you’re a smaller TV series with no chance of Emmy recognition, it’s not hard to see the value in pandering to 35 people in the hopes of the kind of visibility that could greatly help their fortunes. General audiences recognize a Golden Globe as a big award, and so the cycle is perpetuated. Everyone treats the HFPA as though they’re important and so we see them as such. We put all of this weight onto the choices of a handful of nobodies who have no real power in the industry or even much of an interest in what it does beyond schmoozing.

Studios were happy to go along with this for quite some time too, even when the HFPA were slammed for various issues. Nobody threatened to boycott the Globes after Brendan Fraser went public with his accusations against Phil Berk. Actors like Gary Oldman derided the Globes in interviews but still gave fawning thank-yous when nominated. We bought into the myth that the Globes mattered for the Oscar race, despite the past few years showing how their painfully out-of-date decisions were making even the Academy seem progressive.

The HFPA insists that it’s working to make things better and will diversify its ranks, but a more varied membership won’t undo the decades of blatant misdeeds, parodic openness to bribery, or the entrenched racism and misogyny that has defined them. It seems doubtful that the Golden Globes will suddenly become a title of merit if the members remain this inept and arrogant. If NBC wants to pay big bucks for a flashy awards ceremony, there are plenty of critics’ circles and independent committees who have shown far greater commitment to art and celebrating it than the HFPA ever will.

Hollywood’s problems run far deeper than the HFPA but cutting the cord here will at least send a signal. Why beg at the feet of a hundred strangers whose only concerns seem to be making money and getting selfies with celebrities? There’s nothing worth saving here, and I doubt it could ever truly be saved anyway.

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Kayleigh is a features writer and editor for Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter or listen to her podcast, The Hollywood Read.

Header Image Source: Kevin Mazur // Getty Images for Hollywood Foreign Press Association