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One week to the day before the 78th annual Golden Globe Awards, the organization behind the ceremony is reeling from a scathing exposé in the Los Angeles Times.
There are zero Black journalists among the 87 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, according to the Times, and the organization — whose ethics have long been questioned, dating back to an FCC investigation that led to a broadcast ban from 1968-74 and the Pia Zadora scandal of 1982 — is continuing to allow its members to behave in ways that call into question their ethics and integrity.
The HFPA is not only allowing its members to receive lavish perks from the studios and networks whose projects they later write about and vote on, such as a junket in France that might help explain recent Golden Globe nominations for the critically maligned TV series Emily in Paris, among other head-scratchers. But the organization, which is ostensibly a nonprofit, is also paying its own members — many of whom are struggling journalists — substantial amounts of money to serve as officers and on various committees.
Norwegian journalist Kjersti Flaa filed an antitrust lawsuit against the HFPA last year alleging that the organization was depriving her of potential income by barring her and other qualified journalists from becoming members in order to protect the sale value of current members’ reportage in various international territories. (All HFPA members must be Los Angeles-based and provide coverage for media outlets in a country or countries outside of the United States.)
Flaa’s original complaint was dismissed — the judge allowed her to file an amended suit, which she did, and which he is presently considering — but its juicy details prompted many to take a closer look at the secretive HFPA.
The Times spoke to current HFPA members who accuse the group of arbitrarily rejecting “well-credentialed foreign journalists” who apply for membership in favor of people who “aren’t serious journalists.” One member who was granted anonymity told the Times, “We admit people that are not real journalists because they are not a threat to anyone.”
An HFPA spokesperson told the Times that Flaa’s claims are “entirely false,” but said the organization is “committed to addressing” its lack of diversity. This year’s Golden Globe nominations were slammed for omitting from its two best picture categories films featuring primarily Black casts, such as Da 5 Bloods, Judas and the Black Messiah, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and The United States vs. Billie Holiday, and not nominating the critically acclaimed TV series I May Destroy You, which features a Black cast, in any categories.
Many observers also were confounded by the multiple major noms for Sia’s widely panned and controversial film Music and the aforementioned TV series Emily in Paris. While the former remains inexplicable, the Times reports that Paramount Television flew more than 30 HFPA members to France in 2019 to visit the set of the latter. There, they were treated to “a two-night stay at the five-star Peninsula Paris hotel, where rooms currently start at about $1,400 a night, and a news conference and lunch at the Musée des Arts Forains, a private museum filled with amusement rides dating to 1850 where the show was shooting,” the Times reported.
While one HFPA member told the Times that the backlash to the nominations were warranted, the HFPA rep told the Times that “we do not control the individual votes of our members. … We seek to build cultural understanding through film and TV and recognize how the power of creative storytelling can educate people around the world to issues of race, representation and orientation.”
The Times also reported that the HFPA has been paying its own members increasingly large amounts from an increasingly large pool of money generated from the organization’s TV deal with NBC. In the tax year ending June 30, 2019, five board offers were paid between $63,433 and $135,957. Other members are paid for serving on the HFPA’s committees and writing for its website. Two dozen members who are on the foreign film viewing committee each received $3,465 to watch foreign films last month. Members of a travel committee earn $2,310 a month, members of a film festival committee earn $1,100 a month, and members of an archives committee earn $2,200. And members who moderate press conferences receive $1,200 a month.
The Times spoke to tax experts who stated that this type of payment is not typical, especially for an organization that is tax-exempt. It also noted that the TV and film academies do not pay their members (although the film Academy has a staff of some 300, whereas the HFPA reportedly has just six employees).
“We are mindful of the unprecedented economic challenges facing our employees due to the effects of the pandemic,” the HFPA spokesman told the Times of the payments. “The HFPA … will continue to compensate them for the range of services they provide to the organization.”
The Times further alleged that HFPA members were among the beneficiaries of a $125,000 emergency relief fund for journalists impacted by the pandemic that the organization had set up with the Los Angeles Press Club. The existence of the fund, one of many philanthropic causes supported by the HFPA, has been previously reported, but the fact that HFPA members themselves then applied for relief from it has not been.
Diana Ljungaeus, the executive director of the Los Angeles Press Club, tells The Hollywood Reporter that 10 HFPA members were among 170 grant recipients, collectively receiving $7,000 out of a total disbursement of $125,000. She said that a committee of members from within its own board judged applications solely on the merits, and that the vast majority of the recipients were not HFPA members.
(Full disclosure: THR’s Scott Feinberg, one of the writers of this story, serves on the board of the Los Angeles Press Club.)
A source close to the HFPA tells The Hollywood Reporter that the organization “did not place conditions on who the LAPC awarded grants to other than the condition that the money go to journalists in need in accordance with the LAPC’s charitable mission. Like all donors to reputable charitable organizations, we expect the LAPC used those funds in furtherance of their laudable charitable activities.”
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