Golden Globes One Year After Meltdown: Are Reforms Enough to Save Embattled HFPA?

Critics say the central problems plaguing the Hollywood Foreign Press Association remain unaddressed: “You need to start from scratch”

Globes Illustration by Brian Taylor
Globes Illustration by Brian Taylor

In the year since the Los Angeles Times‘ bombshell report about systemic problems at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) — including the startling fact that the organization had no Black members — the massive reform effort of the nonprofit organization behind the Golden Globes has satisfied some but left others still crying out for proof of meaningful change.

Although the organization has taken visible steps toward reform following NBC’s cancellation of the 2022 Golden Globes telecast — such as admitting members of color and banning studio gifts — multiple insiders told TheWrap that the HFPA itself remains, in the words of one international journalist who sued the group, “corrupt to the core.”

Doubts about the extent of HFPA’s reform efforts may be one reason that the group’s most vocal critics seem to have gone radio silent in 2022. NBC, which signed an eight-year, $60 million-per-year licensing deal in 2018, has remained tight-lipped about plans for a 2023 show. The network would not comment for this story.

And the powerful publicists who helped organize last year’s boycott of all HFPA press conferences — among them ID’s Kelly Bush, PMKBNC’s Cindi Berger and Marcel Pariseau — have not lifted their ban on interactions with the group. A Netflix insider told TheWrap that the company had not changed its position on suspending all activities with the HFPA. Multiple publicists for other studios, networks and stars such as Scarlett Johansson, Ava DuVernay and Shonda Rhimes did not respond to requests for comment on whether the HFPA has sufficiently reformed.

But others continue to be vocal. Current and former HFPA members, as well as several rejected for membership in the organization, say that the group’s internal practices continue to undermine serious efforts at reform. They say the organization remains filled with non-journalists, that self-dealing continues in paying people to serve on committees of dubious value and that the leadership still functions more like a club full of cronies rather than a properly run nonprofit organization.

“Have they changed? No, of course they haven’t; it’s the same people who are in power,” one former member who asked not to be named told TheWrap. “They made the vice president the president,” this former member said, referring to German journalist Helen Hoehne elevation to lead the organization after new elections last September in which she ran unopposed. Despite the recommendations issued last summer by the law firm Ropes & Gray, hired by the organization to suggest reforms, the ex-member added: “There was no real will to change… They changed because the industry asked them to, or forced them to.”

Diederik van Hoogstraten, a former HFPA member who resigned last June along with Wenting “Ting Ting” Xu over what they called an atmosphere of “insulation, silence, fear of retribution, self-dealing, corruption and verbal abuse,” does not see the HFPA on track toward meaningful change.

Before resigning, he said he sent a series of emails to HFPA leadership begging them to take advantage of the crisis, eject members without strong journalistic credentials and welcome new members instead. “I believe in six months we could have had a totally different HFPA, but that has not happened, and I don’t think it will happen,” Van Hoogstraten told TheWrap.

L.A.-based Norwegian reporter Kjersti Flaa, who sued the HFPAA in 2020 after being repeatedly denied membership (a judge twice dismissed her case, though she is appealing), said she’s no longer interested in joining. “No, not the way things are now — obviously, I don’t want to be part of something that is so corrupt to the core,” she told TheWrap.

A current member agrees that the current HFPA has not shown a true ability to enact reform, citing an ongoing lack of professionalism and a dearth of actual journalists in the group. “You need to start from scratch,” said the current member, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We have to resign. All of us. And start an organization with journalists.”

golden globes hfpa 2021
Then-HFPA leaders Meher Tatna, Ali Sar and Helen Hoehne at the 2021 ceremony (NBC)


For its part, HFPA leaders insist they have gone a long way to address the issues raised in the aftermath of the L.A. Times exposé and the publicists’ boycott. “The 2021 class of members is the most diverse in its history with six new Black members, 10 women, six who identify as Latinx, five Asian and four of Middle Eastern/North African descent,” the organization said in a statement — though that group of new members fell short of the HFPA’s pledge last March to add at least 13 black members, reflective of the 13% Black U.S. population.

The HFPA also noted the hiring of Neil Phillips as the organization’s new chief of diversity as well as outreach to journalism organizations including the National Association of Black Journalists. “The HFPA remains on track to meet the target of expanding membership by 50% in 2022,” the statement continued. “Creating a diverse and inclusive environment is a journey. With the most recent class of members, not only are there now Black members, there are people of color involved in the decision making process of the entire organization – from major board decisions, to credentialing and selecting new members.”

In addition, the group added three independent members to its board of directors, banned gifts from studios and networks, and abolished an admission process that required the approval of all members. In early October, the HFPA announced a five-year coalition in partnership with the NAACP to create “long-lasting change on a global scale,” as the group said in its news release.

“The HFPA has been working on building a new organization — one that is not focused on fulfilling quotas, but instead has diversity and inclusion at its core, has ethical conduct as the norm, and has people of color involved in every aspect of the Association — from membership to executive leadership. That is how we’re growing an inclusive environment,” the statement concluded.

Theo Kingma, a member and former HFPA president, insisted that the reform efforts have been substantial. “(Have they) changed enough? Yes, absolutely. Change was always extremely difficult with HFPA,” he told TheWrap. “What they did in the past 11 months – if you had asked me two years ago, is it possible, I’d say no way. And they did it. They had to. They were forced to.” 

One of the HFPA’s new members, Kelley Carter of ESPN Global, told TheWrap that she is hopeful about the future of the organization and noted that Black publicists encouraged her to join. “Hands down, everyone said, ‘I know why you’re asking (about) this, but you have to do it,’” Carter said. “I could stand on the sidelines and bark, or I could get off the bench and get in the game and trying to effect some change. I knew that I was going to bring my authentic Black self to the space, whether that would work or not.” She said that she has found the HFPA environment “open to change.”

But with 102 members, the HFPA has not grown significantly in size, a core criticism of the organization — especially when compared to the nearly 9,500-member Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that chooses the Oscars. At least 10 HFPA members were lost in 2021 due to death, dismissal from the group or resignations over the lack of reform.

And many insiders have questioned just how many active members of the HFPA actually make a living as journalists — even before COVID impacted so many media careers.

Several active HFPA members are in their 80s and 90s and are functionally retired, while others do not publicly describe themselves as journalists in their online profiles and personal websites. Longtime member Lisa Lu, 95, is an esteemed actress from China. Alexander Nevsky, from Russia, is an actor and bodybuilder, according to his biography online. Gilda Baum-Lappe bills herself as an artist on her own website. Patricia Danaher describes herself on her website as a “writer, eco-psychologist, mythologist, producer.”

Even one of the HFPA’S new members, Egypt’s Mico Saad, has IMDb and other online listings as an actor, filmmaker and reality TV star — but no indication of his work as a journalist.

Danaher, who previously worked for Irish outlets like the now-defunct Dublin Sunday Times and held a prestigious Neiman Fellowship in journalism from Harvard in 2004, said in an e-mail to TheWrap that she works “in a variety of writing fields and am also CEO of a European news agency called World Star.” World Star (formerly known as Enterpress) — which provides stories to newspapers primarily in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Ireland — was founded by her husband Dierk Sindermann, a longtime HFPA member who died last year.

On Feb. 28, Baum-Lappe issued a statement through the HFPA’s general counsel affirming her journalism career despite its absence on her personal website. “My extensive and long journalistic career has been well known in Hollywood and my home country of Mexico. My work has been a staple of entertainment reporting for decades and anything to the contrary is false,” she wrote. “I have been working the same press conferences, events and shows other journalists have and we have all shared our stories and experiences.”

Lu, Nevsky, and Saad did not respond to a request for comment.

The HFPA defended its membership’s credentials as working journalists, saying that all active members “submitted their clips, were vetted last year, and met the requirements in becoming members.”

But many members have struggled recently to continue journalism work both due to the pandemic and the suspension of HFPA press conferences due to the boycott by publicists. As a result, the organization reduced the output requirement for active membership from eight clippings or links per year to just four. Even this is incredibly challenging for some members who are given wide latitude to qualify, multiple insiders said.



One issue that continues to dog the HFPA is its practice of paying members hefty stipends to serve on internal committees overseeing everything from travel to PR to film festivals to the organization’s YouTube channel. Some committees involve little more than watching movies or TV shows. A committee still exists to organize press conferences — even though they’ve been suspended since last year. Ex-members and observers have complained that members of committees related to Golden Globes event-related festivities were paid for doing virtually nothing when the 2022 awards telecast was canceled.

“Who decides on the committees? The internal joke has been that you write a desperate email to the board and the president asking to be put on a committee because you need the money,” Xu said. “It’s the same dysfunctional family business they run. They protect each others’ benefits.”

For journalists struggling in the current media climate, committee assignments can be a lucrative source of income. According to documentation obtained by TheWrap, monthly payments for individual committee work ranged as high as $3,465 in 2021, and some members served on multiple committees collecting as much as $9,925 in gross pay in a single month. (Those figures to not include members who serve as salaried officers; according to the HFPA’s 2019 tax filing, the most recent publicly available, then-president Meher Tetna earned an annual salary of $136,000 for a 19-hour work week.)

There were 30 committees in 2021 and 19 currently operating in 2022, the HFPA told TheWrap. The association declined to provide a detailed list of the current committees, their membership or the duties required for each. The group’s rep said it plans to release a complete list of current committees within the next few weeks.

But the payouts for committee assignments continues to draw criticism. “I have been outspoken about that. That is absolutely absurd,” a second HFPA member who declined to be identified said. “I do not believe in getting compensated for work not done. By putting members on all these committees, this all comes down to one thing — it’s called greed.”

The first longtime HFPA member agreed: “They want money, money, money.” The member described a membership meeting in which a newer member asked if the committee assignments were “for life” and was told that new assignments can happen every year. At this point, this member said, “most members’ main income is from the committees.”

The HFPA defended the practice of paying members for committee work, adding that it had been vetted last spring by the group’s outside law firm, Ropes & Gray. “HFPA journalists are mostly freelance journalists, who do not have the benefit of working for a publication with a steady salary attached,” the association said in a statement.

Still, many tax experts have questioned the extent of those payments to members, especially for an organization like the HFPA whose tax-exempt status is based on advancing a profession or industry and not the financial interests of individual members. Daniel Kurtz, a nonprofit law specialist and partner at New York-based Pryor Cashman, said that the legality of the practice “depends on the number” of committees any individual can serve on, and whether they’re paid for actual work rather than having the HFPA “just shoving more money at them.”

Hoehne argued that the payments are even more necessary now because the pandemic and the ban on press conferences have made it harder for members to do their jobs. “Look, the HFPA has not had the access we normally have, that’s a fact,” she told TheWrap. “That has obviously put a lot of our members out of work, which is heartbreaking.”

Still, the HFPA said it recently limited committee work to a monthly stipend of $2,000 per committee. “This was done to also provide an equitable treatment of new members who were admitted as full active members,” the organization said in a statement, adding that the new payment structure was overseen by Brad Hall at Clearwater Human Capital, a compensation consulting firm. It’s unclear if there’s a limit to the number of committees on which any one member can serve.

Diederik Van Hoogstraten Ting Ting Xu HFPA
Diederik van Hoogstraten and Ting Ting Xu resigned in protest from the HFPA in 2021. (LinkedIn)


The jury is still out on whether the HFPA has done enough to win over its Hollywood opponents — and to restore the Golden Globes as a star-driven televised ceremony.

Stephen Galloway, a former Hollywood Reporter editor who serves as dean of Chapman University’s Dodge School of the Arts, suggested that many in the industry appear more concerned with the organization’s diversity efforts than its internal problems of questionable committee payments. “Right now they’re buried in ice, frozen cryogenically,” Galloway said, adding that recovery chances will shrink if NBC decides not to air the Globes show in 2023.

David Offenberg, an associate professor of finance at Loyola Marymount University with an expertise in entertainment, suggested that HFPA faces an uphill battle because its troubles have coincided with a decline in viewership for TV awards shows. Still, Offenberg said, “If NBC could make money off the show, they would find a way to get the show back on the air.”

A veteran publicist who was not part of the boycott and asked not to be named told TheWrap that the publicists’ boycott has been haphazard at best. “With the NAACP on board, the diversity issue squarely addressed, the addition of people outside the city, the no-swag rule, etc.,one might wonder, where are these people and why have they continued to boycott?” the publicist said via email.

Galloway praised the organization’s decision to host a guest-less, star-free awards ceremony in January, noting the positive social media response to the diversity of the winners. While the Globes’ own tweets from the ceremony were widely mocked (Vanity Fair called them “brazen chaos”), a handful of stars like Nicole Kidman of “Being the Ricardos” and “Pose” star Michaela Jaé Rodriguez acknowledged their wins on social media — suggesting that the Globes still resonate in some A-list circles.

There’s a lot at stake for the HFPA to get the Globes back on TV. Without NBC’s licensing fees, the organization would not be able to continue its tradition of philanthropic gifts, Hoehne said, noting that HFPA has given more than $50 million to entertainment-related charities in the past 27 years, as well as funding scholarships and other programs for future film and TV professionals.

That amount, while sizable, is still less than the $60 million annual revenue from NBC’s 2018 licensing deal. The organization also had $50 million in its coffers as of 2021, according to individuals close to the HFPA, though others have said the amount is down to roughly $30 million following last year’s re-organization as well as the cancellation of the 2022 telecast. An HFPA rep did not confirm its current financial reserves.

But Hoehne, who said the HFPA is still in talks with NBC, noted: “Without more revenue, the funds don’t last.”

For the record: This story has been updated with a new quote from HFPA member Gilda Baum-Lappe and a further description of Patricia Danaher’s news agency.