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Opinion: The Golden Globes need to change

Scott Roxborough
Scott Roxborough
May 12, 2021

Beset by scandal over corruption and a lack of diversity, the hierarchy governing the Golden Globes must change before it is completely canceled, says DW's Scott Roxborough.

a golden globe
The once-esteemed US film awards is plagued by scandalImage: AFP/R. Beck

In an action movie, if Tom Cruise is on the opposite side of a fight with you, you know you're playing the bad guy.

When Cruise on Monday returned his three Golden Globes in protest after allegations of corruption and racism were leveled at the administering body, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), it was clear the Globes scandal had reached a whole new level.

Cruise, who won Globes for Born on the Fourth of July, Jerry Maguire and Magnolia, joined a growing chorus of stars, studios and film industry heavyweights standing up against the HFPA — the small group of international journalists who vote on the awards — after an LA Times expose highlighted deep structural problems at the organization.

Many of the allegations — that Globe voters traded nominations for kick-backs, that many members have few professional qualifications — were old news to those in the industry.

What truly set the blaze of outrage alight was the revelation that there is not a single Black person among the 87 members of the HFPA. In fact, the group has not had a Black member in more than 20 years. Even last summer, in the wake of the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests, HFPA members voted not to hire a diversity consultant.

A portrait of actor Tom Cruise.
Tom Cruise returned his three Golden Globe awardsImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Schiefelbein

A deserved backlash

Major studios including Netflix, Amazon, and WarnerMedia say they will boycott the Globes until the HFPA reforms. Actors like Scarlett Johansson, a four-time Globe nominee, and Mark Ruffalo, who won an award in 2020, condemned the organization.

NBC, the US television network that has shown the Golden Globes since 1996, and pays the HFPA around $60 million (€50 million) for the privilege, also announced Monday that it will not be airing the 2022 ceremony. 

For casual observers, the onslaught on the Globes and the HPFA might seem sudden. But Hollywood insiders know this storm has been building for years.

Ever since I began reporting on the film industry in the late 1990s, the HPFA has been the subject of a steady drip of stories and scandals. Over time, a picture has emerged of an opaque and secretive organization run by a small cadre of individuals who have an oversized impact on the global film business. They are also subject to zero oversight and are rarely held accountable for their actions.

Man smiling into camera
DW's film expert Scott RoxboroughImage: Privat

Skeptical of promised reforms

Initially, the HFPA reacted well to the expose, pledging to carry out "institutional reform" and posting a series of pledges on social media in which the group promised to recruit more Black members, introduce mandatory anti-racism education, as well as legal oversight via a third-party law firm.

And last week, HFPA members approved a diversity pledge to increase HFPA membership by 50% in the next 18 months to include more Black journalists, and to hire diversity consultants to address systemic problems within the organization.

Like many who have reported on the HFPA in the past, I was skeptical it could truly reform. But in the court of public opinion, it looked like they might weather the storm.

Then in April, the LA Times leaked an email from HFPA's former president, Phillip Berk, in which he shared an article with other members that referred to Black Lives Matter as a "racist hate group." The email reignited the Globes scandal, leading to the current wave of boycotts and the return of Cruise's gongs.

It's no exaggeration to say the Golden Globes is facing the greatest challenge in its history. It's unclear whether the awards — after the Oscars, the world's most famous entertainment honors — will survive.

Nominees shown on screen during the 78th Golden Globes 2021
The Golden Globe Awards were rocked with scandal before the 2021 ceremonyImage: NBC/REUTERS

A long history of scandal

In an irony perhaps lost on its besieged membership, the current scandal engulfing the HFPA is a result of Hollywood taking it seriously — exactly what the group has always wanted.

The LA-based foreign journalists who set up the HFPA in 1943 did so in order to get respect, and access, from the nascent US film industry. Holding their first Golden Globes ceremony in 1944, the influence and importance of the Golden Globes quickly grew. But the HFPA never quite shook its image as an odd, opaque and somewhat fishy organization.

From the start, there were allegations of vote-fixing. In 1982 Pia Zadora won a Golden Globe as New Star of the Year. It was later revealed Zadora's multimillionaire husband Meshulam Riklis had flown HFPA voting members to his Las Vegas casino and treated them to lavish meals.

A similar all-expenses-paid trip to Vegas in 2011, paid by Sony, raised questions about the Globe nomination that year for Sony film The Tourist. Starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, the thriller was among the worst-reviewed films of the year. But the HFPA gave it three Globe nominations, a move that drew guffaws of derisive laughter at the time from the crowd of press and publicists gathered at the Beverly Hilton for the announcement.

Access to the HFPA's inner circle is tightly controlled. New aspirants have to be sponsored and voted in by existing members, with each of the old 87 able to veto new prospects without explanation.

I've spoken to several fellow foreign film hacks — including ones from respected publications like Le Monde — who claimed to have been shut out of the HFPA by existing members who didn't want the competition on their home turf.

Last summer, respected Norwegian film journalist Kjersti Flaa even filed an antitrust lawsuit against the group, alleging the HFPA operates as a kind of cartel, monopolizing critical press access to Hollywood stars, and unfairly excluding qualified journalists. The suit was dismissed in October but it further tarnished the HFPA's public image.  

End of a marriage of convenience?

I can't remember how many publicists, studio executives and producers have complained to me over the years about the Globes and the HFPA, about how "unprofessional," "corrupt," and even "criminal" the organization is.

But for decades, the group and the rest of Hollywood were engaged in a marriage of convenience. As long as the Globes remained a shiny shop window for studios to present their new products, everyone was willing to ignore what was behind the curtain.

That has changed. NBC canceling next year's awards broadcast does smack of opportunism — ratings for the 2021 Golden Globes were down 60% — but it will have an impact. As will Tom Cruise returning his awards. Change is long overdue. The only question is whether the group can reform before Hollywood cancels them entirely. 

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