"The HFPA is a creation of Hollywood's own making, and we as an industry have been complicit in the erasure of Black journalists," one Black writer says
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), which awards the Golden Globes, has already taken steps to make good on the group's onstage promise at its Feb. 28 telecast to add Black members to its ranks, but some longtime observers say it may be too late for the group to make meaningful change.
The 40-second statement at the Globes by HFPA president Ali Sar, former president Meher Tatna and Helen Hoehne, a member from Germany, followed a Feb. 21 Los Angeles Times exposé highlighting the fact that the 87-member HFPA has no Black members, as well as a Feb. 26 demand to diversify its membership from Time's Up.
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"I know inside (HFPA) they are completely panicked, the people on the stage are panicked. They don't know what to do," one HFPA member who asked not to be named told TheWrap.
Reps for the HFPA did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.
The L.A. Times is hardly the first to examine the lack of HFPA diversity as well as other questionable practices at the organization. TheWrap called out the lack of Black members as long ago as 2013, when a Black applicant from the U.K. was rejected by an overwhelming vote. However, observers say the recent Black Lives Matter movement has made the focus on the lack of Black members impossible to ignore in 2021.
Some longtime observers of the 78-year-old HFPA say adding new Black members is unlikely to upgrade the organization's longstanding image as the less-credible-but-way-more-fun stepchild of the Oscars in the annual awards season game.
"The HFPA is a creation of Hollywood's own making, and we as an industry have been complicit in the erasure of Black journalists," said Tre'vell Anderson, an L.A.-based freelance entertainment journalist and recent former president of the National Association of Black Journalists Los Angeles chapter. Anderson also serves as editor at large for Xtra Magazine, an LGBTQ outlet based in Toronto.
"One of the reasons HFPA is what it is, and the Golden Globes are what they are, is that we all look for the awards show that's a party, a precursor to the Oscars," Anderson said. "All of that allows them as a body to continued to be exclusionary of Black journalists and Black critics."
However, Anderson acknowledged that this "party" has taken on more importance over the years as Academy Awards campaigners have come to see the Golden Globes as an Oscar predictor, as well as a badge that earns the winners higher fees in the future. "Should we be investing all of this time and money and energy into a platform such as the HFPA or the Golden Globes?" he said. "What we know is that these types of awards do have a material benefit for the folks that get recognized by them."
Gil Robertson, the L.A.-based president of the African American Film Critics Association, said the HFPA contacted his group on Feb. 27 -- the day before this year's ceremony -- for advice on diversifying the organization. He called the interchange a positive one. "If there's a way we can support them, then we're open to it," Robertson said.
An individual close to NBC confirmed that the HFPA has been meeting with the network and encouraging them in their efforts. NBC has not had to step in to issue any ultimatums on adding Black members or making other institutional changes because HFPA is taking the change effort seriously, the insider said.
In an Instagram post on Saturday, the HFPA detailed its plans for "transformational change," including outreach to add Black and other underrepresented professionals, legal review of policies and practices, efforts to create transparency and increases to the nonprofit organization's support of internship, mentorship and scholarship programs for Black and other underrepresented students interested in international journalism.
Time's Up immediately issued a response, quoting Tina Tchen, president and CEO of the Time's Up Foundation saying she is "not so sure" the organization will make good on its promises. "The rights words are not enough. The clock is ticking," she said.
Currently, HFPA requires that its members write for international outlets but be based in Los Angeles. One step HFPA might take to expand its membership to include Black journalists could be to acknowledge that the residency rule for all members is outdated, Anderson said.
"In this digital age, particularly over the last year in which streaming and press events have moved exclusively online, it doesn't make sense that one has to live in the SoCal area," Anderson said. "We're not just talking about Black folks here...what it says is that if you are an international writer and you are based in L.A., somehow your words are more impactful."
Joe Pichirallo, a producer, ex-studio executive and faculty member at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, agreed that residency rules are outdated in 2021 and that the Hollywood press, as well as the awards publicity machine, must take some responsibility for inflating the importance of the HFPA over the decades.
"All of us have looked the other way because the Golden Globes have become an effective marketing tool for the really serious awards like the Oscars," Pichirallo said. "I know that what I'm saying is pretty radical, but it seems like the lack of African American members has really brought home how deficient they are as an organization."
Pichirallo and other awards watchers also compared HFPA's current 87-member body to the Motion Picture Academy's more than 9,000 voting members in 2021. Following the 2016 #OscarsSoWhite outcry, the Academy doubled the number of nonwhite members from 8% to 16% by 2020. Adding a few Black members, Picharallo and others said, would not necessarily provide enough critical mass to change the outcome of HFPA voting.
Said Pichirallo, "I don't think it's just a question of adding some members. You've got to really wonder whether the fundamental nature of this organization should change, or if we should just let it die."
One Academy member who asked not to be named said renewed attention on HFPA's lack of Black members would probably not be happening now if the organization had not snubbed critically acclaimed Black-led films for this year's Best Picture-Drama category, including "Da 5 Bloods," "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" and "One Night in Miami." Those nominations could possibly influence their inclusion in the Best Picture category in the upcoming Oscars.
"It's not about (membership) inclusion, it's about what was nominated that has them upset," the Academy member said.
The HFPA member added that the Globes are less of a serious awards body than an entertainment outlet. "It's a TV show," he said. "In the year 2021, I can name a lot more important messages to be upset about. I question people's motivations for being so upset about a TV show."
Beatrice Verhoeven contributed to this report.