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Now that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has voted in an expansive slate of new bylaws intended in part to expand and diversify its roster “with a specific focus on recruiting Black members,” the next question is how, specifically, it will accomplish the task.
Arguably the biggest flashpoint of outrage sparked by the Feb. 21 Los Angeles Times exposé about the HFPA was the revelation that the 87-member organization (now down to 83) behind the Golden Globe Awards has no Black journalists. Opening up eligibility to those who work in mediums beyond print and reside anywhere in the U.S. (not just Southern California) and allowing multiple members who cover the same foreign territory will increase the pool of prospectives and help the organization reach its goal of adding at least 20 new members in 2021 and increasing overall membership by 50 percent over the next 18 months. Two other changes — the lifting of the sponsorship requirement (in which two current members endorse an applicant) and the authorization of “alternative methods for member induction” (including adding third parties from “credible” journalistic and DEI organizations to the credentials committee) — could break some of the insularity the HFPA has been known for and, according to a representative from the HFPA’s New Members Committee, are key strategies to help diversify the membership.
A professed scarcity of candidates — the common “we can’t find any” refrain — is often used to justify the dearth of diversity in a group. But Kelley L. Carter, chair of the National Association of Black Journalists’ Arts and Entertainment Task Force, tells The Hollywood Reporter that the organization maintains a database of Black reporters with years of experience covering entertainment for domestic and international outlets. “The pool is wide open,” says Carter, a senior entertainment writer for ESPN’s The Undefeated. “I find very insulting the idea that companies are having difficulties finding qualified journalists of color. We are out there, and we’ve always been out there.”
The HFPA New Members Committee representative says that the group is reaching out to advocacy groups, industry experts and external partners to help with recruitment. Representatives from the HFPA and NABJ boards met in March, and the former organization reached out again to the latter last week after the new bylaws were passed.
The HFPA’s initial responses to its crisis were deemed tepid by other stakeholders in the awards-industry apparatus, which could leave some prospective new members wary of entering an organization seen as reactionary or insincere about change. “To have those stipulations [about membership] in the first place showed that they never really intended to have many people from different backgrounds and cultures and ethnicities,” says Toronto-based freelance journalist and film critic Carolyn Hinds, who says that if she were eligible, she would need to see transparency about membership and six months to a year of active change before joining.
Carter believes that Black journalists are “cautiously open” to considering the HFPA. “The only way to fix a broken system is to get inside it. It does nothing for us to admonish them and then walk away,” she says, although she adds that “anything [the HFPA does] right now, even if it’s well-intentioned, is still going to feel performative. The fact of the matter is that this was an organization that clearly was not thinking about representation and what their voter base looked like until it was exposed. To have a reactionary response as opposed to being an organization that should have been proactive kind of misses the mark for a lot of people.”
The HFPA says that its internal training (which includes a majority of members already having undergone “intimate sessions” with DEI consultant Leadership Lab International) has emphasized not only getting new journalists in the door, but more importantly cultivating an inclusive environment to make all feel like welcomed participants in the organization. “New members will immediately be allowed to vote on the Golden Globes, vote on board members and serve on committees,” HFPA member Anke Hofmann tells THR. “We want new members to feel not only comfortable but also empowered to use their voice in our reimagined Association as soon as they arrive.”
Despite any ongoing concerns over the troubled organization, for marginalized journalists who aren’t staffed at the major outlets who cover the entertainment industry, HFPA membership could still provide a considerable professional boost. “I know it would help my career,” says Hinds. “When you belong to an organization like that, just like having Tomatometer approval [a mark of distinction in which a critic’s reviews count toward the official Rotten Tomatoes score], it allows us weight behind our pitches. It’s all about access.”
Hinds adds that, ironically, HFPA membership could especially be a difference maker when it comes to pitching international outlets. Despite residing in Canada, all but one of her bylines are with U.S. brands like ComingSoon, Observer and The Root. “Canadian entertainment coverage is very white and very male,” says Hinds, who is of Bajan descent.
Ultimately, diversifying the HFPA requires the organization to take responsibility but also involves addressing the industry’s media ecosystem as a whole. “There are so many problems that exceed the Hollywood Foreign Press,” Carter says. “We really appreciated hearing a lot of talent speak up about this, but the truth is that Black journalists, even though we’re qualified and work for really amazing outlets, often don’t get the same access that our counterparts who work for larger, predominantly white or institutional places get.”
Talent and publicists who have been holding the HFPA to account for their diversity deficits can further support Black journalists by granting interviews with Black-oriented outlets. “It doesn’t just start and end with the Hollywood Foreign Press,” Carter says. “It’s Hollywood, period.”
Aug. 10, 10:16 a.m. Corrected to reflect that the HFPA met with NABJ in March.
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