HFPA’s Diversity and Inclusion Adviser Quits After Ava DuVernay, Publicists Reveal ‘Systemic’ Challenges in Group

USC professor Shaun Harper says it is “impossible” for him to continue in the role after meeting with leaders of Time’s Up, Hollywood publicists and Color of Change

Shaun Harper resigns from HFPA
Shaun Harper / Getty

The crisis around the Hollywood Foreign Press Association deepened significantly on Tuesday as two of the organization’s diversity experts quit after a day of scandal in which a former president was exposed for writing a racist email.

Shaun Harper, a professor at USC hired last month by the HFPA to serve as a diversity and inclusion adviser, quit following a meeting on Tuesday with representatives from Time’s Up — including Tina Tchen and filmmaker Ava DuVernay — Color of Change and several heads of publicity firms who represent the group that recently boycotted the HFPA.

His resignation letter, obtained by the Hollywood Reporter, read, “Having now learned more about the Association’s deep systemic and reputational challenges, I no longer have confidence in our ability to collaboratively deliver the transformational change that the industry and the people in it whom I deeply respect are demanding of you. My serious, unwavering commitment to the racial and gender equity issues on which I work every day make it impossible for me to continue serving in a consulting capacity with the HFPA.”

Additionally, crisis PR expert Judy Smith, also hired to advise the group on diversifying, resigned on Tuesday. An individual close to Sunshine Sachs, the group’s long-serving public relations firm, said they were weighing whether to drop HFPA as a client.

Harper, Smith and the HFPA did not respond to The Wrap’s request for comment.

An individual with knowledge of the conversation at the Tuesday meeting said that Harper and Smith were both informed in detail about HFPA practices, including frequent instances of ignoring projects by people of color. DuVernay spoke directly about the issue, which she tweeted about after TheWrap exposed the practice in a recent article.

“They all seemed to be surprised by what was being shared by people who had experienced systemic racism and sexism and homophobia,” said one person familiar with the meeting discussion. “I don’t believe that up to that moment, in the 4-5 weeks they were involved, that they understood the depths of the issues.”

An HFPA insider said that Harper and the law firm Ropes & Gray “worked with the leadership” and “solicited ideas from everybody and gave them positive reports regularly.”

Earlier on Tuesday, former Hollywood Foreign Press Association president Philip Berk was expelled after the outcry over a leaked email recently sent to members with a post describing Black Lives Matter as a “hate movement.”

Berk’s email, which was obtained by TheWrap and first reported on by the Los Angeles Times, appears to be a copy of an article on conservative website FrontPage Mag titled “BLM Goes Hollywood,” which criticized BLM founder Patrisse Cullors for buying a $1.4 million house in Topanga Canyon, California. “The house is down the road from one of the homes involved in the Manson murders which seems only appropriate since Manson wanted to start a race war. And Black Lives Matter is carrying on Manson’s work,” says the post.

“NBC strongly condemns Phil Berk’s actions and is calling for his immediate expulsion,” the network said in a statement. “While we continue to await the details of HFPA’s upcoming plan for reform, swift action on this front is an essential element for NBC to move forward with the HFPA and the Golden Globes.”

The turmoil has only deepened at the HFPA since the group pledged to reform in a public commitment on stage during the Golden Globe ceremony this year. Time’s Up called on the board of directors to resign, and on the entire membership to resign and reapply, in a wide-ranging condemnation of corruption in the group.

While pledging to reform, insiders say that instead, HFPA leaders have been bereft of a true strategy to move forward, and instead hired experts but are not proved willing to adopt change. A deadline of May 6 looms when the group had promised to deliver a set of reforms and a timetable to achieve them.

“They haven’t done anything except what feels very performative,” said one knowledgeable insider. The HFPA board scheduled and then canceled a meeting with Hollywood publicists as well as GLAAD, the insider said.

Another insider said that the HFPA was “blindsided” by Harper’s resignation.

On Tuesday night, HFPA executives met with their law firm Ropes & Gray, who has met with the Hollywood publicists group and been given their expectations.

The HFPA’s scandal-ridden year began just before the Golden Globes when the Times published an expose outlining millions of dollars in payments sent to members as well as noting that none of the organization’s 87 members are Black despite the rise of the #OscarsSoWhite movement since 2015. TheWrap has since reported that the HFPA also denied requests to hold press conferences for “Bridgerton,” “Girls Trip,” and “Queen & Slim,” three projects featuring Black casts and directors that all failed to receive Golden Globe nominations.

“If they don’t take this seriously, no one is gonna come” to the Golden Globes in the future, said the knowledgeable insider. “Nobody wants to get a racist statue anymore.”

Sharon Waxman and Steve Pond contributed to this report. 


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