The Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s very bad year just got even worse.
In the wake of a Feb. 21 Los Angeles Times article that revealed the organization behind the Golden Globe Awards currently counts zero Black people among its members, Time’s Up and more than 100 PR firms threatened to cut off the HFPA altogether unless it announced major reforms. The HFPA promised to do so by May 6, but as that date approaches it finds itself in greater disarray than ever.
On Tuesday, the HFPA’s board was pressured by NBC, its Globes broadcasting partner, and MRC, the owner of Globes production company Dick Clark Productions, to expel Philip Berk, a 44-year veteran of the group and eight-term past president, after the Los Angeles Times reported that Berk forwarded a racist email to his fellow members on Sunday.
Things only got worse from there, The Hollywood Reporter can exclusively report.
The Berk situation proved to be the last straw for Smith & Company, the strategic advisory and crisis communications firm run by famed “fixer” Judy Smith, the real-life inspiration for Scandal‘s Olivia Pope, which had been retained by the HFPA’s law firm of Lathan & Watkins to advise the organization slightly more than a month ago.
Early in the relationship, Smith was reportedly outraged by the recommendation of Dr. Shaun Harper, a USC professor whom the HFPA hired March 9 to serve as its diversity and inclusion (D&I) adviser, that the HFPA add 13 new Black members — a seemingly arbitrary number, which then would have brought the HFPA membership to 100 — before the next Globes ceremony. She subsequently grew increasingly frustrated by the organization’s refusal to listen to other advice and commit to concrete actions, ultimately concluding that its problems are so deep-rooted that it is a lost cause, which led her to quit Tuesday.
Smith could not be reached for comment.
Harper, meanwhile, met on Tuesday with representatives of Time’s Up, including Ava DuVernay and Shonda Rhimes, and of the PR firms that have said they will withhold talent from HFPA events unless major changes are enacted by May 6. That meeting reportedly did not go well, with Harper being slammed for the proposal regarding 13 new Black members, and concluding that the scope of the problem is beyond what he originally understood it to be, which ultimately led to him resigning his post, as well.
Harper could not be reached for comment, but THR obtained a copy of his resignation letter, which reads in part, “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.”
Harper also released the HFPA from compensating him for any of his work over the past six weeks.
The next domino to fall? Sources say that Sunshine Sachs, the HFPA’s longtime PR firm, is considering dropping the organization as a client, as is Ropes & Gray LLP, the law firm retained by the HFPA on March 9 to conduct a comprehensive review of HFPA policies; assess its membership process, operations, and governance; and review its alignment with industry best practices in various areas.
Ropes & Gray and Sunshine Sachs could not be reached for comment.