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The Hollywood Foreign Press Association Crisis Explained

Golden Globes
Peter Dutton (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

You may have seen the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) dominating entertainment news recently. They will likely continue to draw backlash for the foreseeable future. But a lot has been happening. We thought it best to summarize what is going so wrong with the HFPA-in-crisis right now. 

For context, the HFPA is the group of very mysterious people who decide a lot of important (relatively, in the industry at least) things. They are a small group, under 100 people, and supposedly writers for foreign publications. However, many of these journalists may only need to publish a few articles a year to qualify. 

They decide who gets a Golden Globe. They do other stuff too, but this where they become most visible. This award may not seem important—and it’s not really—but having big awards or nominations to an actor’s name can have real, monetary consequences. So, it’s no surprise people are concerned about this small, mysterious group of people who can make careers. 

Before the 2021 Golden Globes, news broke that the HFPA hasn’t had a single Black member in two decades. Unsurprisingly, immediate outrage followed. At the ceremony, many presenters took stabs at the HFPA’s quite stark lack of diversity. Later, over 100 PR firms warned the HFPA they would advise clients to avoid the organization if they did not rapidly implement real change.

Facing mounting pressure, the HFPA finally responded this last week after voting on sweeping reforms to address their issues. Some of their big changes are increasing membership by 50% over the next 18 months and increasing diversity. It would also alter the way money moves through the organization, to limit accusations of bribery. 

The response from industry groups to these changes have been swift. Time’s Up, the charity that seeks to address workplace sexual harassment and assault, responded with a letter criticizing the changes. Time’s Up president Tina Tchen said, “The window-dressing platitudes adopted yesterday are neither the transformation that was promised nor what our creative community deserves.”

PR groups followed with their own letter. They slammed the changes for their vagueness, saying that there was no real timeline or transparency. There was no system that ensured these changes would be executed, not enough specifics, and a lack of real, structural change. PR firms also noted that whenever there were specific about timelines, they would take too long to affect the 2022 Golden Globes, prompting discussion on whether that award ceremony should take place. 

Netflix joined the criticism, with co-CEO Ted Sarandos saying that the plans were not good enough. He also announced that his company would no longer work with the HFPA until they implement immediate, larger reforms. The HFPA president Ali Sar responded by publicly asking to meet with Sarandos to “clarify some misinformation.”

Amazon Studios has similarly paused work with the HFPA until the organization makes further changes.

Most recently, Scarlett Johansson has also advocated that the industry “step back” from working with the HFPA without “fundamental” reform. She also mentioned that on press tours, certain members of the HFPA would ask questions that “bordered on sexual harassment.”

Recent Golden Globe winner Mark Ruffalo took to Twitter to say: “I cannot feel proud or happy about being a recipient of this award.” He also said he would refrain from HFPA events without “urgent reform.”

The HFPA is in free fall right now. Facing long overdue demands for change, their measures do not meet the standards necessary to create real change. In an effort not to allow history to repeat itself—where vague change is promised but never really delivered—the industry members who gave the Golden Globes credibility are challenging its very existence. 

At this point, it’s unclear whether the 2022 Golden Globes will happen next year. If they don’t act quick, they may not happen again at all. With the HFPA on their heels, it’s up to them to decide whether they can adapt to the demands of the modern world, or whether they will become obsolete. 

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