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For nearly two years, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has been in the midst of an existential crisis, ever since a February 2021 Los Angeles Times story revealed a lack of Black members and a pattern of financial improprieties. The revelations sparked studios and talent to boycott the HFPA and prompted NBC, its longtime broadcasting partner, to decline to air a Golden Globes ceremony in 2022. On Jan. 10, after a major overhaul of the organization and a year off the air, the HFPA will return to holding its signature event, the Globes, on NBC, hosted by comedian Jerrod Carmichael.
The group’s reforms have included inviting 21 new members — U.S.-based journalists working for outlets abroad — and 103 new, internationally based voters in order to create a voting pool that is 52 percent female and 51.5 percent racially and ethnically diverse. The HFPA also has banned gifts and instituted a hotline for reporting misconduct.
But the organization, which is waiting for the California attorney general to approve its purchase by Eldridge Industries, has a long road to regaining trust and relevance in Hollywood, and its telecast contract with NBC is for just one year. (THR is owned by a joint venture between Penske Media Corp. and Eldridge.) Ahead of the Golden Globe nominations on Dec. 12, THR spoke to HFPA president Helen Hoehne and chief diversity officer Neil Phillips about the group’s troubled past, its attempts at reform and whether the loose and wacky Globes of yore will ever return.
What do you want the entertainment industry to know about how the HFPA has changed?
HELEN HOEHNE This is really not the old HFPA anymore. Over the past 18 months — almost two years now — we took a deep look inward and listened to the criticism. The changes that we’ve made were the expansion of our voting body, the universal gift ban. We are one of the only awards shows that has a universal gift ban. And we built a new infrastructure that transformed our organization and the awards show into something that is more diverse, transparent and responsive. We are the only major awards show that is voted on by a majority of women and by a majority of voters who self-identify as ethnically diverse. There are also a lot of voters who self-identify as LGBTQIA+. What I would like the industry to know is that this is not the finish line. It’s a journey that will continue in the years to come.
Neil, can you explain what your role is at the organization?
NEIL PHILLIPS I’ve been in this role for a little over one year now. What I’m in the process of doing is helping HFPA be on a journey to diversity, equity and inclusion as an organization. What I wanted to be very clear about in my work with the organization is that I wasn’t here to help the organization get out of trouble. That was not my endgame at all. My interest was, let’s look at this as an opportunity to transform who we are and contribute to an evolution not just of the organization, but of the industry as a whole.
Helen, you joined the HFPA in 2004. Were you surprised when the L.A. Times story ran and there was such an outcry about the lack of Black members and the financial practices of the organization?
HOEHNE I wasn’t surprised. Internally, we’ve wanted to make changes for some time, but the way the organization was set up didn’t allow us to make some of the changes, to be honest. We had an infrastructure that was very old-fashioned, a governance that had old bylaws. In order for us to change, we had to change the infrastructure.
What’s the most difficult conversation you’ve had with a publicist since you became president?
HOEHNE The hardest conversations we had were about behavior, the prior behavior of certain members [e.g., complaints of demanding personal contact with talent], which was not addressed appropriately in the past. Our reforms have included the operation of a confidential hotline so that if inappropriate behavior happens, there are consequences for it. It can be reported to the hotline, and it will be investigated by an independent law firm.
What’s your reaction to Brendan Fraser saying that he won’t attend the show this year?
HOEHNE Look, I respect Brendan Fraser’s decision. I’m in touch with his team. Obviously, we talked about it internally. And I personally, sincerely hope there’s a way for us to move forward and we are able to regain Mr. Fraser’s trust, along with the trust of the entire entertainment community.
How will the HFPA ensure other frontrunners don’t follow suit?
HOEHNE We can only change the future and make sure that this doesn’t happen again. We certainly hope that people will give us a chance. We’ve had DEI sessions, sensitivity awareness and sexual harassment sessions, and we are working with GLAAD on an LGBTQIA+ session. These are sessions that our members undergo, and they’re mandatory. They’re part of our code of conduct that the members all signed. As journalists, we have to learn even how to ask questions appropriately. Especially with our voters coming from all different countries, English is not their first language. There’s a lot of learning to do, including for myself.
PHILLIPS What we can control is the work that we do. And what we hope is that the earnestness with which we undertake the work, that that’s well received. My thrust has been, let’s focus on the work we need to do, and certainly we hope that will be well received beyond the organization.
One of your reforms has been implementing stricter membership standards. Has anyone who was a member before the boycott been asked to leave because of failing to meet those standards? Do these reforms actually have teeth?
HOEHNE We have let go of a few members who didn’t meet the standard, yes. We strictly enforce not only the code of conduct, but the reaccreditation process. If you don’t meet the standards to qualify to be a member, you will be let go. Yes, they have teeth. Teeth that may not make me the most popular person, because we are enforcing a lot of rules.
Why do HFPA members earn salaries? If they’re active enough as journalists to merit membership, shouldn’t they be able to earn a living from journalism?
HOEHNE Our HFPA members earn some salaries because they’re doing work on committees that help the association. And when we’re talking about salaries, it’s more like a small stipend. The main job is, they’re journalists and they’re making their income as journalists. Before, most foreign correspondents working in the U.S. were employed on retainers and operated bureaus here. But it all fell apart with the closure of outlets and mass layoffs. Most of those bureaus were lost and replaced with freelance work. So finding alternative means to support journalists with other work was what we did. However, this is only a supplement to their journalistic income and by no means a full-time salary.
The new, nonmember voters don’t get the stipend, though, right?
HOEHNE No, we don’t pay our international voters.
Since a lot of those new, nonmember voters are people of color who are helping to make the organization’s voting more inclusive, isn’t that a problem to pay the members, but not these voters?
HOEHNE The members are just as diverse as the international voters. Last year, we admitted 21 new diverse members, which made our total HFPA membership 52 percent female and over 50 percent ethnically diverse. So our members who are working on committees are very diverse. Our current legal structure does not allow us to compensate non-U.S. citizens or non-green card holders, and they therefore do not provide any of the services we compensate some of the current members for.
The broadcast-rights deal with NBC is just for this year. What will happen with the telecast after that? Are you looking for a new broadcast or streaming partner?
HOEHNE Yes, we are. As we know, the media landscape has changed and will continuously change. So the goal now is just to put on a great show, then next year we will see. We’re excited that the show is back on NBC for the 80th. Then we will revisit this next year.
Has it been hard to recruit presenters or hosts?
HOEHNE No. We’ve gotten a lot of support from the studios. We are talking to the publicists. And it’s been really exciting to have Jesse Collins and Dionne Harmon [who produced 2022’s Super Bowl LVI halftime show] be the producers and executive producers of the show. I think they’re excited to see their vision come to life.
The Globes have always been known for being a pretty fun and loose show. How will you retain that while also producing a show that’s respectful of everything the organization has experienced the past two years?
HOEHNE We know this is a very important year for us, of change and transformation. And we are coming back and showing the industry all the work we have done. At the same time, we want to celebrate the 80th Golden Globes. I think everyone missed the Globes because it is one of the most fun awards shows. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere. It’s a party vibe. It’s very unpredictable. And I think we want to keep that. And I think this is what people are looking for in this time of post-pandemic coming back. The mood in general is a tough one. People are really looking forward to having some fun again. And so I hope we can provide that.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the Dec. 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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