As Netflix, Amazon Boycott HFPA Over Reforms, Could the Golden Globes Get Canceled?

The response from activist groups and top streamers: Not enough. Too slow. Awfully vague

golden globes statue
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Sharon Waxman

Sharon Waxman On the Business of Entertainment

The founder and editor of TheWrap’s take on life on the left coast, high culture, low culture and the business of entertainment and media. Waxman writes frequently on the inside doings of Hollywood, and is is also the author of two books, Rebels on the Back Lot and Loot

The battle lines for the Golden Globes have been drawn, and the beleaguered awards show and the tiny group of foreign journalists who choose the winners took a step closer to cancellation last week.  

This may be confusing to some, as last week finally saw a comprehensive set of reforms by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association overwhelmingly approved by the 86 members of the group. The HFPA committed to adding 50 percent to its membership within 18 months and to ensure that half of all new members would come from underrepresented groups. It committed to electing a new board in September and to hiring outside, professional executive leadership. 

The response from activist groups as well as top Hollywood companies like Netflix and Amazon? Not enough. Too slow. Awfully vague.

Time’s Up dismissed the reform plan as “sorely lacking and hardly transformational.” The group of 100 public relations firms that launched a boycott of the group by its clients rejected the plan as too slow to impact the 2022 Golden Globes and suggested that the awards should be pushed by a year “so that new members do not remain in the minority for another year.” GLAAD said the reforms “do not go far enough.” Only the National Association of Black Journalists, nominally the group most directly affected by the change since this move to boycott stemmed from the group’s lack of Black members, said it was “encouraged” by the plan. 

And then came what could be a death blow: Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos told the group in a letter last week that his company would boycott HFPA events until there was a “clear roadmap for change,” while a rep for Amazon Prime told TheWrap, “We have not been working with the HFPA since these issues were first raised, and like the rest of the industry, we are awaiting a sincere and significant resolution before moving forward.”

Update: WarnerMedia joined this boycott on Monday morning, saying the reform plan “doesn’t go far enough.”

But what was strange in all this is that the reforms do provide a roadmap for change. The plan is fairly specific and meaty, detailing a number of new members and a time frame for bringing them on board. The plan stated a date for new elections and detailed such things as banning all gifts, a more stringent rule than many other journalism groups that hand out awards.

Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos, Ava DuVernay, Norman Lear and Netflix VP of Original Documentary Lisa Nishimura at 2017 event (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Netflix/AP Images)

In truth, the complaints were in some cases very picky: Publicists complained that the plan for an executive team — which included hiring a CEO, a CFO, a chief human resources officer and a chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer (the last to be hired by Sept. 1) — lacked a COO. Time’s Up seemed hurt that its own demands — which essentially called for the self-destruction of the group — had been ignored. Indeed, the across-the-board rejection made it seem as if no timetable would be swift enough. 

Were these criticisms made in good faith? Come on: The HFPA can’t realistically triple its membership in the next three months.

I’m told by a knowledgeable individual involved in this drama that all this week a pressure campaign has been waged by Time’s Up to get Hollywood studios to boycott the HFPA, if not the Golden Globes. (A rep for Time’s Up did not respond to a request for comment.) Netflix, which has major investments in Ava DuVernay and Shonda Rhimes, two A-list creators who have been badly snubbed by the HFPA in the recent past, was the first to boycott.

At this point, it seems as if no amount of change will be good enough for some people. Some segment of the industry has made up its mind that the Golden Globes can go away and the industry will be no worse for the wear.

Ultimately, this is probably the HFPA’s own fault. It’s true, the group woke up way too late. It’s also been a haven for corruption, insularity and exclusion for decades. 

But as one person close to the group told me plaintively on Friday night after a full day of rejection: “Aren’t we supposed to fix things? To try to be better?” 

Maybe not, as one veteran observer of the situation said to me. “I feel like a lot of people in Hollywood would be very happy to pull the plug on HFPA and the Golden Globes,” this insider said. “They’re demanding extensive, detailed changes, on a very short timetable. The HFPA is trying as best they can to show that they’re on board and want to change, and they’re getting s— now because current members will still be a majority” come the next awards season.

This person went on: “The degree of discontent, the rejection of their plans indicates that a lot of people would just as soon they go away. People are ready to take that step. And maybe they are eager to do so.” 

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of new members that HFPA has committed to adding. TheWrap regrets the error.

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