The Golden Globes Need a Major Overhaul – and Cosmetic Changes Won’t Cut It Anymore

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association is going to have to make serious reforms to win back the support of the industry

Last Updated: February 28, 2021 @ 11:48 AM

AWARDS BEAT

It’s only fitting that the Time’s Up organization this week joined in the outcry against the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and its awards show, the Golden Globes. For the HPFA and the Globes, after decades of being humored and mocked without having to make any substantial changes, time really is up.

If one thing has become clear over the last few days, it’s that the HFPA doesn’t get a free pass anymore. If it doesn’t change and embrace substantial reform, the group will lose the support of the industry that knows it has looked the other way for far too long.

As Ava DuVernay wrote on Twitter on Friday, using the #TimesUpGlobes hashtag, “Old news. New energy.”

Sunday’s Golden Globes show has to be the last one ever presented from the HFPA in its current form — a group of fewer than 90 full- and part-time journalists who wield inordinate power with Hollywood studios because their annual shindig is televised by NBC and usually gets movie-awards ratings second only to the Oscars.

It’s not that last week’s stories in the Los Angeles Times told the industry things it didn’t already know. Yes, the Times revealed more details about how the HFPA lines its members’ pockets by paying them for committee assignments, and it detailed the ways in which it fights to keep its membership number small to capitalize on the studios’ largesse.

The Times fleshed out what many other media outlets, including TheWrap, have written for decades, dating back to Wrap editor-in-chief Sharon Waxman’s 1996 piece in the Washington Post and even earlier — as when Pia Zadora notoriously won New Star of the Year for a role that also earned her a Razzie for Worst Actress. But none of these controversies have shaken the Golden Globes the way the Times did in a follow-up story the day after the main piece.

The key was a single, devastating line that was easily understood and quickly condemned: The Hollywood Foreign Press Association does not have a single Black member.

In 2021, that’s game over. In the aftermath of that info, people are not going to smile and shrug and enjoy all that free champagne that flows at the Beverly Hilton during a normal show. (Perhaps fortunately for the HFPA, this is not going to be a normal show.) Even viewers who have mostly watched the show in blissful ignorance of who the voters are can hear that line and grasp immediately that it’s wrong.

And that means we’re at a tipping point. A year from now, if the HPFA doesn’t look significantly different than it does today, how will it find a host? Will Tina Fey, who put her name to a petition in favor of unionizing Amazon warehouse workers on Friday, want to come back to host again? Will anybody?

And will this week’s events go unnoticed on Sunday night? Globe presenters include Anthony Anderson, Cynthia Erivo, Tiffany Haddish, Kenan Thompson, Susan Kelechi Watson, Rosie Perez and Awkwafina. It’s silly to think that none of them will say anything about the group’s lack of diversity, though HPFA leadership is clearly drafting a speech of their own that they hope will make enough promises to put out the potential fires from winners and presenters.

One key came on Sunday morning, when the HFPA announced a final group of presenters that included Ava DuVernay, a booking that was clearly designed to send a message that they know they’re in hot water here.

Another of the presenters is past Globe winner Sterling K. Brown, one of many who posted the #TimesUpGlobes message on social media. He pointed out on Instagram that he was presenting, and added, “For any governing body of a current Hollywood award show to have such a lack of voting representation illustrates a level of irresponsibility that should not be ignored … And having a multitude of Black presenters does not absolve you of your lack of diversity.”

Others who posted similar messages included Kerry Washington, Judd Apatow, Laura Dern, Rashida Jones and Ellen Pompeo.

I’ve taken plenty of shots at the Globes’ credibility myself over the years, though I’ve also pointed out when they’ve made smart choices. (This is a group, after all, that gave its top award to “Brokeback Mountain” over “Crash” and “The Social Network” over “The King’s Speech.”) I’ve also fallen into the habit of shrugging off the HFPA’s lack of credibility, adopting a tone of bemusement and suggesting that we enjoy the party and not take it too seriously.

But clearly, it’s time to take it seriously. If the HFPA wants the industry to pay attention to its awards show, the organization has to change — and small or cosmetic changes will be noticed and won’t be shrugged off this time.

So what should they do? Here are some suggestions.

1. Expand in size — dramatically.
Ever since the Academy was hit with the #OscarsSoWhite criticism in 2016, the Academy has been scrambling to become more diverse. The organization has been growing by roughly 10% a year over the past five years, inviting between 600 and 1,000 new members every year and doubling the number of people of color and women since 2016.

The HFPA is already majority female, and it does contain some people of color, but the lack of Black members must be addressed in a way that doesn’t seem like tokenism. Honestly, even a 10% increase — which would be nine new members, far more than they usually admit and almost double the current limit of five — is not going to cut it. The group probably needs to add 20 more members this year, and then do it again in 2022, and in 2023 … And to do that is going to require not only a rule change, but a major attitude change.

2. Reveal the names of everybody in the HFPA.
The organization hasn’t always kept its membership secret from the public, although it has in recent years. But the group is not going to get out of this mess without transparency. Yes, it will be embarrassing, because some members will have minimal journalistic credentials. But others are highly credible, and the new members they admit will be, too. (Right?) Continuing to act as if they have something to hide is not the way to win back trust.

3. Stop being territorial.
The HFPA has a reputation for blocking the admission of new members who serve the same foreign markets as current members. But the qualifying standard for admission has to be journalistic standing, not geographic convenience or fear of competition. And if that makes things more annoying for current members accustomed to having a monopoly on those HFPA press conferences in their home markets, tough.

4. Don’t pay members for doing things they should be doing anyway.
As the Times pointed out in its original story, the HFPA paid almost $2 million to its members for working on internal committees in the fiscal year that ended in June. That includes $1,000 a month for serving on the “history committee,” $2,310 a month for the “travel committee” (even in a year with no travel) and $3,465 a month for the committee that watches foreign-language films. A HPFA rep told the Times, “compensation decisions are based on an evaluation of compensation practices by similar nonprofit organizations.”

That defense does not hold up to scrutiny. The Motion Picture Academy does not compensate members who view international films or documentaries to select the nominees in those categories, and the Critics Choice Association does not compensate the members who serve on screening committees to select its nominations. And yet the HFPA is giving members almost $3,500 a month to watch movies? If they’re entertainment journalists, isn’t that their job?

I mean, I watched 42 of the films in the running for the Oscar for Best International Feature Film, more than 70 of the documentaries competing in that category and 167 of the films eligible for Best Picture, because if you’re writing about movies, you should be seeing movies. And if the whole point of your organization is that you’re the foreign press, why the hell do you need to be paid extra to watch non-American movies?

Sadly, the clear answer to that question is that they’re paid extra to watch movies because that’s how the HFPA works. But as this year’s Golden Globes ceremony arrives, it’s also clear that the way the HFPA works just doesn’t work anymore.