Golden Globes group to investigate accusations of sexual misconduct raised by TheWrap, including a claim Asi kissed his assistant without her consent
Golden Globes voter Husam “Sam” Asi, a Palestinian journalist for the BBC Arabic service and longtime member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, has been accused of sexual misconduct by three women, including a former assistant who said he once kissed her on the lips without her consent.
All three women spoke on the record about their experiences with a man they say abused their trust by turning professional situations into sexualized encounters that ultimately drove one of the women to leave entertainment journalism altogether.
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Asi, an HFPA member since 2010 who was responsible for running the HFPA website as recently as last year, on Tuesday responded to detailed accounts of the accusations: “We deny all these baseless accusations, and we have ample evidence to prove them false.” He did not provide any evidence ahead of the publication of this article; instead, his attorney sent “cease and desist” letters to two of his female accusers on Tuesday night accusing them of “defamatory attacks on him.”
A spokesperson for the HFPA — which has been under fire for much of the last year amid accusations of corruption, racism and self-dealing — said that the organization sent the information provided by TheWrap to an outside firm for review and investigation, citing the association’s “intolerance for any type of discrimination or harassment.”
The most serious accusations come from Tianyue Li, who worked as an unpaid assistant for Asi for six months in 2017. She said that Asi played pornography in front of her while she was working at his apartment (“I don’t think that’s appropriate,” she recalled telling him) and once kissed her on the lips without her consent. “I was in my own space, and he just leaned (in)… and then he kissed me,” she said. “I told him, ‘Don’t do that again.’”
She recalled that he apologized and asked if he had misread a message. “I said no, I don’t want to do that, and I pushed him,” she said.
Asi declined to comment in detail on the accusations, though an individual close to Asi denied that the journalist had ever shown her pornography or kissed her and insisted that all of Asi’s interactions with Li were professional.
In addition, Wenting “Ting Ting” Xu, a former HFPA member from China who resigned from the group in protest in 2021 over the lack of reforms, said she was mortified after she got into the organization in 2016 — after trying and failing to do so in 2014 — and found that Asi shared with her a rumor that she had performed oral sex on him to gain admission.
“Sam one day came up to me and said, ‘When you wanted to apply the first time, I was your sponsor, and members laughed at me and joked that you must’ve given me a blow job in order for me to sponsor you,’” she recalled. “Only people like Sam would even say that. Rumors exist, that’s fine. But it doesn’t mean you can just tell that person, like that they said you gave me a blow job. It’s just not something people say to a woman. I just walked away. I don’t think I even said anything to him.”
The individual close to Asi countered that Xu was aware of the rumor in 2014 and had laughed it off and is now raising the claims to retaliate against Asi for sponsoring other Chinese journalists to the organization — a charge Xu flatly denied. Asi declined to comment.
In addition, former journalist Hanna Greentree told TheWrap Asi gave her the impression he would only sponsor her to become a member of the HFPA if she had sex with him — though she had more than a decade of experience as a print and TV journalist for outlets like Marie Claire, Hello! and Time Out Moscow. Greentree, a native of Ukraine who worked as a journalist in L.A. under the name Anna Pavlova, said Asi invited her to his apartment in 2016 to discuss sponsoring her application and she immediately felt uncomfortable. Greentree said Asi did not openly proposition her, but the nature of the conversation — talking about girlfriends and dating rather than about the HFPA — convinced her that he was angling for a relationship as a quid pro quo before he would agree to back her membership application.
“It was such a strange conversation,” she told TheWrap. “I was trying to talk to him about sponsorship. About how HFPA operates. I was very clear: I’m willing to do anything. My second thought was, I think I said something I shouldn’t. I am desperate, but not that I’m willing to have a sexual relationship with someone. No way,” Greentree said. Ultimately, Asi did not agree to sponsor her for membership.
Asi did not comment in more detail on this encounter.
But Greentree was so disillusioned by her interactions with Asi, as well as her other unsuccessful attempts to join the HFPA after gaining Motion Picture Association of America accreditation in 2010, that she abandoned journalism altogether. She now lives in London and works in marketing. “I was desperate because HFPA was my dream as a journalist who dedicated myself – I put 20 years into that,” she said. “I realized that I would not get into the HFPA — you need to sleep with someone… because no one wants you because you’re a good journalist. You need a connection. You need to have sex with someone.”
She paused. “I gave up on my profession.”
This is not the first time Asi has faced misconduct charges. In 2013, TheWrap reported that Asi was accused of sexual harassment after showing two female HFPA members, including Russian member Nellee Holmes, photos on his phone of drunk, sleeping girls from a recent movie junket. At the time, one insider claimed that Asi was heard boasting that he “got drunk, brought (the girls) back to his room, and molested” them.
Asi, who works as a producer and host of “BBC Cinematic” for BBC Arabic and writes a column for the London-based Al Quds Al Arabi, later denied the incident. And the HFPA did not take any action against him. At that time, TheWrap reported that some female members saw “the failure to investigate the accusations properly as symptomatic of an internal culture that values keeping the HFPA out of the press as more important than doing the right thing.”
An HFPA spokesperson noted that the organization established a new code of conduct in May 2021 as part of the group’s reforms and created an anonymous hotline for complaints. “The HFPA takes any and all allegations very seriously and does not condone any type of inappropriate misconduct or behavior,” the spokesperson said. “If it is found that a member has violated the Code of Conduct, disciplinary action will be taken, including suspension and/or expulsion from the organization.”
Li, a native of China, had just graduated from the University of California at Berkeley when she learned through a friend that Asi wanted to hire an assistant. She began working with him in March 2017, she said, but without compensation. Asi was looking for someone who spoke a second language and could help translate interview footage into Chinese, as well as assist with other editing tasks and filming B-roll, she said. But her responsibilities would also come to include driving, picking him up or dropping him off at the airport, running errands, organizing things and even cleaning his apartment.
She said she ignored what she considered to be sexual harassment by him, but that it continued for half a year despite her complaints. “Because I was still working for him, I couldn’t do much. I wanted the opportunity, and I just felt if I bear with him, and through time, if he knew there was no chance, then he would be normal,” Li told TheWrap. “I kept thinking that maybe something normal was going to happen. Maybe he’s going to realize that I only wanted to work and be professional and working and learning in this industry. That’s why I kept working for him for that six-month period, because from my side, I knew I wouldn’t let anything happen to me.”
The individual close to Asi complained that Li never submitted invoices for her work as an intern and often struggled in the role, including shooting out-of-focus and unusable footage for an interview Asi conducted with Marvel boss Kevin Feige.
Within her first few weeks on the job, Li recalled working in Asi’s West Hollywood apartment, doing research on her laptop and discussing work while sitting beside him on his couch. It was still the early stages of their work relationship, but he suddenly leaned over and kissed her.
“It happened so early, and I just got the opportunity, and I was warning him, I wanted things to be separate and OK and keep things professional from that point, and just keep working,” she told TheWrap. “That’s why I didn’t quit right away or leave right away.”
Some time later, Li was taken aback again when while working at his apartment, Asi offhandedly asked if Li could access porn in her native China, asking whether it was legal or accessible and suggesting that they should “do some research.” She said he soon showed her his screen playing various Asian pornography scenes — which he continued to do even after she objected.
“I was having a reaction, objecting to whatever he was trying to show me, and he was commenting, ‘I thought you were an open person, like I could talk about stuff, like anything,’” Li recalled. “He commented how Asians are really shy and wouldn’t go for their desires. ‘They always bury it in their heart, but they’re too afraid to go for it.’”
But Li said his hints didn’t stop there. She recalled that Asi frequently bragged about past sexual relationships, models he had slept with or that he was “good in bed.” Li said he would also critique actresses’ appearances while watching sex scenes in films and TV, including judging an actress on the Netflix show “Jessica Jones” by saying that she was unattractive and that “her naked body matches how she looks.”
When Li attended Comic-Con in July 2017 to help Asi film B-roll for interviews, another surprise awaited. Prior to attending the San Diego convention, Li said she confirmed with Asi multiple times that she would have her own bedroom — only to find that she’d instead be sharing a hotel room with her boss. “I questioned him and said, ‘I thought I had my own space to sleep in my own room. And he pointed to a couch and said, ‘That is your own space,” Li recalled, adding that he told her to relax and that his other assistants always had the same situation when attending business trips. She said that after everything that had come before, she sensed that something like this might happen and feared that he would be “tricky” or play “word games” about what she had really asked.
“I felt uncomfortable and had to move out the night we arrived,” she said. “He’s very self-centered, and he kept normalizing the fact that it’s OK: ‘Relax, why are you so sensitive?’”
Li then went to stay with a friend named Erio Li, who is not a relation. Erio Li corroborated her friend’s account to TheWrap, as well as the incident of the unwanted kiss. “I remembered Tian was happy telling me she got the permit/working pass a few days before the Comic-Con, and I asked her if she needed to stay with me, she told me that her boss Husam booked a hotel for her. After she arrived in San Diego, she called me and asked if she could stay with me, because it turned out Husam only booked one room and was letting her sleep on the sofa bed not far next to his bed,” Erio Li told TheWrap via email.
She continued: “She told me Husam started talking flirty and sexually, and one day he suddenly kissed Tian without permission. Husam also took Tian to his apartment on the excuse of work, but I felt he wanted to get in a further relationship with her.”
The individual close to Asi disputed Li’s account, saying that Li was the one who asked to attend Comic-Con and its subsequent parties and demanded to have her own room, but that Asi never promised one and instead offered her the sofa as an alternative.
Xu, the former HFPA member who resigned last year, told TheWrap she first met Li when Asi proudly introduced his new Chinese assistant while attending a screening in spring 2017. And based on texts the two exchanged in 2019 and shared with TheWrap, she also corroborated that Tian believed Asi was flirting with her and would brag about women wanting to sleep with him. “I was shocked. I was like, ‘You should’ve told somebody,’” Xu told TheWrap about what she told Li when first learning of her accusation.
Li finally quit in early August 2017, explaining that her real passion was to work in the film industry as a producer or director. She currently co-owns a matcha shop in L.A. while also pursuing projects in special-effects makeup.
In 2015, Russian journalist Anna Pavlova-Greentree was eager to apply for membership into the HFPA after gaining MPAA accreditation in 2010 and years of TV and print interviews for overseas outlets. At the time, new applicants were required to find sponsors from among current HFPA members. She had emailed 40 different members, some of whom she had met at screenings or junkets around Los Angeles, about how she could apply. One of the few responses she received was from Asi, who told her in an email from 2015 that if he were to sponsor her, he needed to know her first for at least a year.
One year later in November 2016, Greentree and Asi finally agreed to meet, with her suggesting that they could go for a hike. When she arrived at his building, she said Asi asked her to come upstairs to his apartment and later offered her wine.
When she said she was busy and would be leaving, she remembered that Asi suggested watching a movie. “At the end, we were sitting on his couch. I didn’t feel comfortable,” she told TheWrap. “I didn’t want to be in his house. I just wanted to go for a walk.”
Instead of discussing the HFPA and the admission process, she said Asi instead discussed an ex-girlfriend he said was also Russian. Greentree recalled him talking about being single, that he didn’t have time for a family but that he would like a girlfriend — and she came away with the impression that he would agree to sponsor her if she would date him, something she had no interest in doing.
Asi did not comment in more detail on this encounter.
Ultimately, Greentree decided to leave Los Angeles and put her dreams of being a journalist behind her. “I went through serious depression,” she said. “It’s very emotional for me. “I realized the biggest achievement in the U.S. – the HFPA – is just crap. Everything I was dreaming about – it’s just trash.”
The HFPA as part of their reforms has acknowledged criticisms that they’ve not taken issues of harassment and misconduct seriously in the past and have responded by adding both a revised code of conduct and establishing a hotline in which complaints are reviewed and investigated by a global ethics company called Convercent. The company then presents those claims to the Board with recommendations on disciplinary action.
Update on August 23, 2022: The Hollywood Foreign Press voted to expel Asi from the organization in the wake of its independent investigation, effective August 27, 2022.
For the record: A previous version of this story had incorrect dates for when Ting Ting Xu applied for HFPA membership.
Film Reporter • email@example.com • Twitter: @brianwelk
Sharon Waxman, is the founder, CEO and Editor in Chief of TheWrap. She is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author, and was a Hollywood correspondent for The New York Times. Twitter: @sharonwaxman