Once upon a time, the Golden Globes were a highly influential component of awards season. The winners of this show would be placed as front-runners for the Oscars in the coming weeks. Voters for these awards are made up of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), a group of journalists and photographers reporting on U.S. media for organizations outside the country. The association was founded in 1943 and typically has around 90-100 members. They have been hosting The Golden Globes since 1944, and the show will host its 80th event in 2023.
However, for decades, the Golden Globes have been plagued by controversy. Over the years, the HFPA as an organization and its members have received allegations of corruption, racism, and sexual assault. This culminated in 2021 when both individual actors and major studios announced that they would no longer participate in the awards ceremony. With such bad press circulating, the 2022 show was boycotted by many and NBC refused to broadcast it. The ceremony is returning to screens in 2023, you might be wondering what happened for the situation to reach this point and whether it’s a good thing that the awards will be airing once more.
1958: The Corrupt Voting System
The longest-standing complaint against the HFPA and the Golden Globes is corruption. As early as 1958, a little over a decade after the awards were founded, the HFPA president, Henry Gris, resigned. He claimed that awards were transactional and given as favors rather than to those who had earned them. Later, in 1982, we have the earliest major corruption scandal for the organization. Young actress Pia Zadora won Best New Star of the Year for her role in Butterfly. Many claim that she was given the award after her billionaire husband essentially bought it for her by wooing the voters with a trip to his Las Vegas casino. Zadora still argues that she won the award “fair and square” (via THR), but it’s hard to argue when there’s a pattern of this corruption.
More recently, in 2020, there was a lawsuit against the HFPA from journalist Kjersti Flaa. She argues that “the tax-exempt organization operated as a kind of cartel, barring qualified applicants — including herself — and monopolizing all-important press access while improperly subsidizing its members’ income” (via LA Times). These claims are backed up by anecdotal evidence from Denzel Washington, who was told by producer Freddie Fields that all he needed to do to win an award was “feed them” and “take pictures with everybody,” and he did, indeed, win.
2018: Sexual Assault Allegations
Another serious pattern of behavior from members of the HFPA is sexual impropriety. In 2018, The Whale actor Brendan Fraser came forward and discussed being groped by HFPA President Phil Berk back in 2003. The HFPA’s internal investigation concluded that Berk’s behavior was merely a joke, Fraser did not agree. Berk remained the President of the organization until April 2021 when he came under further criticism — more on that later. Marvel star Scarlett Johansson has also stated that she was subject to sexist questions and comments from members of the HFPA that “bordered on sexual harassment.” This does not come as a surprise from an organization committed to protecting predatory members and cements its position on the matter.
2020: Racism and Lack of Diversity
The HFPA’s issues with race were brought to the attention of the public in 2020. At this point, there were 87 members, and it was revealed that none of them were Black. What’s more is that the previously mentioned president, Phil Berk, described the Black Lives Matter movement as a “racist hate movement” (via Variety). Whether it’s conscious or not, the complete exclusion of Black journalists from the organization is no accident. With the president openly fearing the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s hard to believe this move was merely unconscious bias.
Among the discussions about corruption within the voting system, the lack of Black-led movies being nominated was also noted. For example, in 2021 major awards contenders like Judas and the Black Messiah and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom were notably absent from Drama Motion Picture nominations. Whether this was the result of a lack of campaigning (or bribing), or more insidious racism, the effect is the same: Black achievements are devalued.
In a bid to keep the Golden Globes alive, the HFPA has plans for a series of reforms. The Golden Globes as an awards show will be taken over by for-profit company Eldridge Industries, run by HFPA CEO Todd Boehly. A new company created by Eldridge will receive the rights to the Golden Globes and develop the staff and executive team. The HFPA itself will remain a nonprofit organization and has formed a committee to govern its assets. Also included in reforms are restrictions on gifts that voters may receive, the addition of 21 new members — most of whom are people of color, and a new chief diversity offer.
These changes being sufficient to make up for the extreme corruption is uncertain. Will the move to make the Golden Globes a for-profit organization lead to worse monetary management? The 2023 awards will be televised once again on NBC, so these reforms seem to have appeased the network. However, not everyone is satisfied, and nominee Brendan Fraser will not be in attendance. Asking people to forget decades of corruption and mistreatment after making a few changes may be expecting too much.