Golden Globes Under Fire: Will HFPA Reforms Be Enough?

HFPA President Ali Sar, HFPA Board Chair Meher Tatna, and HFPA Vice President Helen Hoehne speak onstage at the 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at The Beverly Hilton and broadcast on February 28, 2021.
Christopher Polk/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Left to right: HFPA president Ali Sar, HFPA board chair Meher Tatna, and HFPA vp Helen Hoehne speak to the industry during the Globes telecast.

Was the 78th Golden Globe Awards on Feb. 28 the last one that will feature the participation of top Hollywood talent? That’s the question industry insiders are pondering as the organization that puts on the annual kudosfest, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, faces growing criticism and calls for boycotts of future events if it doesn’t address significant concerns about the diversity of its membership.

Now, The Hollywood Reporter has learned, famed “fixer” and crisis management expert Judy Smith, who inspired the character of Olivia Pope on Scandal, has been consulted by the HFPA amid the firestorm.

The fallout initially stemmed from a Feb. 21 Los Angeles Times article that identified questionable ethical and financial behavior by members — of the sort that twice previously resulted in the Globes being kicked off the TV airwaves — and also revealed that there are zero Black members of the 87-person organization.

Ahead of this year’s Golden Globes, Time’s Up, the coalition formed in the wake of #MeToo to combat workplace discrimination, launched a campaign — amplified by numerous Hollywood A-listers via social media — and called on the HFPA to state specific plans for reforming itself, including that all existing members “must resign” and reapply for membership under new criteria.

The Los Angeles-based HFPA conceded it needs to change during a brief segment on the Globes telecast — which drew only 6.91 million viewers on NBC, a 13-year ratings low. And on March 6, the HFPA attempted damage control, noting that it had retained a diversity consultant and a law firm to conduct an internal review as the first “steps we will take over the next 60 days.”

But those steps weren’t enough for Hollywood’s gatekeeper. On March 15, in an unprecedented move, 100-plus entertainment PR firms on both sides of the Atlantic signed on to a joint letter to the HFPA demanding “explicit plans” for “transformational change,” and warning that in the meantime, “We cannot advocate for our clients to participate in HFPA events or interviews as we await your explicit plans and timeline for transformational change.”

Marveled one publicist whose firm signed on to the letter, “One day you wake up and you realize you have some leverage in this thing,” adding that talent represented by the firm has been uniformly supportive: “I notified all of our clients. I only heard back from two or three, who said, ‘Great, this is wonderful.’ ”

The one major PR firm that was invited to sign on but didn’t was Sunshine Sachs, which finds itself in the awkward position of representing both talent and organizations including the HFPA. Sunshine Sachs is said to be coordinating the HFPA’s meetings with civil rights groups including the NAACP, National Association of Black Journalists and Color of Change, as well as crisis expert Smith.

Hours after the PR firms sent the letter to the HFPA, the organization reiterated its commitment to change, declaring, “As a demonstration of our commitment, the board has unanimously approved a plan to increase membership to a minimum of 100 members this year, with a requirement that at least 13 percent of the membership be Black journalists.”

A source close to the HFPA says the vote took place before the organization received the letter — but publicists were quick to say that adding 13 Black members does not represent the sort of change they seem to be seeking. (Unlike Time’s Up, the PR firms do not have a uniform set of specific demands, and it took days just to get all of them to sign off on the wording of the initial letter.) Indeed, if further action is not taken before the HFPA’s self-imposed deadline of 60 days expires May 5, says one signatory, the next Golden Globes will look very different from any that came before. “No nominees and presenters will show up.”

This story first appeared in the March 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.