April 22, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

HFPA plans ‘transformational’ reforms after Times investigation

On Saturday night, in the wake of a Times investigation that cast a shadow of controversy over last Sunday’s Golden Globes ceremony, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. announced that it is committing to “transformational change.”

In a statement issued on its social media platforms, the 87-member group of international journalists that votes on the Globes announced a number of reforms aimed at addressing criticisms that have long bedeviled the group but were given renewed focus as a result of The Times investigation. “We at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association are committed to transformational change,” the group said. “Effective immediately, the Board — in consultation with outside advisors — will oversee reforms and be accountable for that change.”

After The Times highlighted the lack of Black members in the group, sparking a social media protest spearheaded by Time’s Up prior to Sunday’s Globes, the HFPA announced that it would hire a diversity and equity expert and engage in outreach to try to recruit Black journalists and others from underrepresented backgrounds.

As The Times has reported, the group — which has not had a Black member in more than 20 years — voted not to hire a diversity consultant last summer when the issue was raised in the wake of the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests. In an Australian television interview earlier this week, current HFPA member Jenny Cooney acknowledged that for years the lack of Black members “was not really anything we focused on.”

“Among other important tasks, this [diversity] expert will audit our bylaws and membership requirements to help us guard against any exclusionary practices and achieve a more diverse membership,” said the HFPA statement. “We are also mandating annual anti-racism and unconscious bias education and sexual harassment training for every member of the HFPA.” The group also pledged to increase its support of internship, mentorship and scholarship programs for Black and other underrepresented students interested in international journalism.

The HFPA has long been dogged by scandals, lawsuits and questions regarding its membership and its ethics. The Times investigation found that the group continues to engage in practices that raise questions even within the group, including issuing substantial payments to members to work on committees and other tasks and participating in lavish, studio-subsidized junkets for films and TV shows that are vying for Globes nominations.

In its statement, the group pledged to review its practices, saying will be “hiring a third-party independent law firm to review the HFPA policies to ensure we are aligned with and exceed industry best practices in other critical areas.” The group further committed to work with that law firm “to ensure a robust process by which any individual (members, partners, vendors, and artists) can confidentially report any potential violation of our ethical standards or code of conduct with the confidence that it will be fully and fairly investigated and will have clear and serious consequences for those in violation.”

The HFPA has historically kept its membership strictly limited in size and shared little to no public information about who belongs to the group, whose members include both seasoned film professionals for major outlets along with many others who write only sporadically for more obscure outlets. Beset by criticisms over its insularity and secrecy, the group said it would set about “improving our efforts to create transparency into our operations, voting, processes, eligibility, and membership.”

Despite such pledges of transparency, according to a current member, the group’s board of officers has not consulted with members on the changes it has announced and did not tell them of the statement before releasing it to the public.

“It is strange to say the least that whoever made this decision have done so without any input by any of us,” said the current member, who declined to be identified for fear of retaliation from others in the group. “I know none of the members that I’ve talked to have been engaged with the board, spoken to or heard from. In fact, we’ve not heard one bit of communication from leadership since the L.A. Times story broke. For an organization that prides itself on internal democracy, the vast majority of voting members of the HFPA have been kept in the dark.”

Immediately following the HFPA’s statement, Time’s Up — which had blasted what it saw as the group’s tepid response to the controversy during Sunday’s Globes — issued its own statement, expressing skepticism over the HFPA’s commitment to address what are in many cases long-standing problems.

“So NBCUniversal, Dick Clark Productions and the HFPA just declared that they have a plan to fix problems they’ve ignored for decades. We’re not so sure,” wrote Time’s Up President Tina Tchen. “On behalf of the many artists who look to us to hold the HFPA’s feet to the fire on the racism, disrespect, misogyny and alleged corrupt financial dealings of the Golden Globes, we need to see specific details, timetables for change, and firm commitments. The right words are not enough. The clock is ticking.”

“Selma” director Ava DuVernay, who had spearheaded the social media campaign in the run-up to the Globes, echoed Tchen’s skepticism on Twitter after the statement.

“So, the board is gonna oversee its own reform?” DuVernay tweeted. “Same board that oversees and benefits from the current practices and has knowingly perpetuated the HFPA’s corrupt dealings and racial inequity for decades? Got it.”

According to a source who was not authorized to discuss the matter, Time’s Up met with NBC executives earlier in the week and has been pushing the network to push HFPA.

In a letter to the network Sunday night following the Globes, Tchen wrote, “Much of the credibility of the Golden Globes is drawn from its affiliation with your network. NBCUniversal has a reputational interest in fixing these issues … The Globes are no longer golden. It’s time to act.”

Renewed criticism of the HFPA was sparked in August when Norwegian journalist Kjersti Flaa filed an antitrust lawsuit against the group. That suit, which alleged that the HFPA operates as a kind of cartel, monopolizing critical press access and unfairly excluding qualified journalists like Flaa, was dismissed by a federal judge in October but an amended motion is pending.

Speaking to The Times on Saturday night, Flaa also raised skepticism over the group’s ability to carry out meaningful change.

“If they simply admitted all qualified applicants, they would not have to hire experts in racial diversity to help them continue cherry-picking members who will not compete with one another,” Flaa said. “It’s apparent that they want to give the appearance of racial diversity while continuing to maintain exclusionary membership practices that allow a few people to share great wealth. The simplest way to solve the problem would be to admit all qualified applicants. Then they would not need to hire experts. This is simply repeating the pattern in which they promise to make changes when they feel publicly embarrassed but they never do. “

In its statement, the HFPA said that it will set about undertaking its stated reforms over the next two months.

“Our mission as a diverse group of journalists from more than 40 different countries has always been about covering entertainment and film, advancing the critical work of entertainment-related charities, and elevating future film and television professionals from all walks of life, unified by their shared passion and love for film and television,” the statement concluded. “But we must and will do more. These are the initial steps we will take over the next 60 days and we will carry out further action based on the recommendations that come from these initial reviews and assessments.”