‘People of color were snubbed in major categories,’ announced Ricky Gervais, during his final kamikaze stint hosting the 78th Golden Globe awards in January 2020. ‘Nothing we can do about that, Hollywood Foreign Press are all very racist.’
Gervais’s words haunt the HFPA this week. The Hollywood institution behind the annual Golden Globes awards is floundering beneath an industry-wide wave of condemnation and cancellation, that culminated on Monday with NBC announcing they won’t be screening the 2022 edition. Tom Cruise has gravely let it be known that he is returning his Golden Globe awards, Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo have publicly condemned the institution and Netflix, HBO, WarnerMedia and Amazon Studios have all proclaimed that they will be boycotting the Globes.
But hang on. Why exactly has this 76-year-old institution been brought to its knees? A gathering chorus of voices are charging it with being hopelessly racist and misogynistic. Many of those voices are from players in an industry that was until recently, in the main, fairly unconcerned by the fact that there have been no black members of the Association in the past 20 years, and no rush to acquire any. Nevertheless, the steady drip of revelations and accusations leveled at HFPA over the past few months have been a slow-motion car crash and today, the venerable Hollywood institution is in serious peril. Is this the death knell for old-school awards ceremonies?
‘It could all come down like a house of cards — the Oscars, Grammys, the awards as we know them,’ says one Los Angeles based industry insider. ‘Things are turning against them for sure.’
Recently, two ‘diversity and inclusion’ advisers, Shaun Harper and Judy Smith walked out after only a few weeks in the job, when then-president Phil Berk in a leaked email, referred to Black Lives Matter as a ‘racial hate movement’. Berk was fired from his position shortly after. And despite 35 percent of the HFPA’s membership being from countries including India, Bangladesh, Japan and the Philippines, the Association’s lack of Black members is now paramount. In a raft of measures announced last week, the HFPA announced plans to the double its membership, appoint specialists to oversee diversity in the ranks and end the practice of its members taking freebies and gifts from studios, inducements which some say can have a great deal to do with where prestigious Golden Globe awards end up.
‘There have been rumbles for years about how corrupt the HFPA allegedly is,’ the industry source says. ‘That it is an “old boys club”, made up of extremely elderly guys who will give favor if you treat them nice with fancy dinners, trips abroad and expensive hotels. So, some of their choices for the Golden Globes have been — surprising, let’s say.’
‘There’s racism everywhere,’ says HFPA member Sam Asi. ‘But the focus is now on the HFPA because it doesn’t have a black journalist. The HFPA doesn’t recruit journalists, but now it has committed to find and recruit US-based international black journalists. I think reforms have to be done from the inside rather than dictated from the outside in order to be effective.’
But the organization’s plans to address the lack of black members has met with muted response. Co-CEO of Netflix Ted Sarados last week responded to HFPA’s plans for change with a stern rebuke:
‘We don’t believe these proposed new policies — particularly around the size and speed of membership growth — will tackle the HFPA’s systemic diversity and inclusion challenges, or the lack of clear standards for how your members should operate. So, we’re stopping any activities with your organization until more meaningful changes are made.’
Given that Netflix dominated this year’s nominations and scored six wins (four for The Crown alone as well as The Queen’s Gambit and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, meaning the streaming service had three times the winners than any other distributor) Sarandos’s letter is a major headache for the HFPA. (‘We hear your concerns about the changes our association needs to make,’ HFPA president Ali Sar replied to Sarandos later last Friday ‘And I want to assure you that we are working diligently on all of them.’)
Amazon Studios has also cut ties. ‘We have not been working with the HFPA since these issues were first raised, and like the rest of the industry, we are awaiting a sincere and significant resolution before moving forward,’ they said in a statement. If that wasn’t bad enough, a coalition of 100 Hollywood PR agencies (including legendary Hollywood publicists Sunshine Sachs, whose client list includes Meghan Markle) have signed open letters distancing themselves too. This raised some cynical eyebrows in Hollywood. ‘The legion of publicists who have objected to the HFPA want it to reform and diversify, and it should,’ says our source. ‘But who enabled their alleged behavior, by arranging the trips, dinners, screenings et cetera? Surely, those same publicists. I don’t think most people would miss the Globes if they took 2022 off.’
In the klieg-light glare of social-media scrutiny and unforgiving banners of wokedom, it seems as if in its current form, the Globes are in real and imminent danger of cancellation.
‘I was going to do an in memoriam, but when I saw the list, it wasn’t diverse enough,’ Gervais quipped during the 2020 Awards. ‘It was mostly white people. Maybe next year’Given the parlous state of the Globes today, that reckoning might be a few more years to come — if it comes at all.