Tom Cruise hands back his awards. NBC pulls out. Is it all over for the Golden Globes?

A Los Angeles Times exposé has left the Hollywood Foreign Press Association reeling

Golden Globes: the HFPA has a long history of controversy, but the current kerfuffle is on a different scale. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty

Golden Globes: the HFPA has a long history of controversy, but the current kerfuffle is on a different scale. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty

 

The cinematic establishment looks to be preparing for a shift in the industrial awards complex (for a while at least). “A world without the Globes. How will we ever survive such a place?” Clayton Davis, Variety’s awards editor, writes in that trade paper. “Don’t worry. I suspect we’ll get along just fine, if not better.”

The Golden Globes have not ceased to exist, but, following yet another tranche of scandals involving the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, or HFPA, the body that runs the awards, NBC has announced that it will not air the next ceremony.

The decision reflected the broadcaster’s view that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, reeling from a recent exposé in the Los Angeles Times, would be unable to enact significant changes in time for the upcoming awards season.

The most famous controversy concerns the awarding of ‘best newcomer’ to Pia Zadora in 1981 after her husband flew certain voting members to his hotel in Las Vegas

“We continue to believe that the HFPA is committed to meaningful reform,” NBC says. “However, change of this magnitude takes time and work, and we feel strongly that the HFPA needs time to do it right. As such, NBC will not air the 2022 Golden Globes. Assuming the organisation executes on its plan, we are hopeful we will be in a position to air the show in January 2023.”

The HFPA has a long history of controversy, but the current kerfuffle is on a different scale. The Los Angeles Times reported that the organisation, a nonprofit, was paying its members to be on committees and that it had not a single black member. In February, a few weeks after that piece landed, the Globes battered their way through a shaky online ceremony that featured more than a few snipes from hosts and attendees.

“Hold on, Donald Trump is contesting the result,” Sacha Baron Cohen said after winning an award. “He’s claiming that a lot of dead people voted, which is a very rude thing to say about the HFPA.”

The organisation has just 87 members, few of whom are household names in even the households of dedicated film enthusiasts.

Things got worse in April when Philip Berk, a past president, was, following 44 years in the body, expelled after emailing an article to other members that described Black Lives Matter as a “racist hate movement”. Berk, an octogenarian from South Africa, had earlier been accused of groping the actor Brendan Fraser at an event in 2003.

The HFPA, which sent three members out to address the controversies at this year’s Globes, was already in the process of constructing a plan to correct its perceived lack of diversity. The scheme proposed adding a minimum of 20 new members in 2021 “with a specific focus on recruiting Black members”.

More complaints followed. A collection of powerful Hollywood publicists wrote a public letter threatening to advise their clients to stay away unless meaningful change took place. “To reflect how urgent and necessary we feel this work is, we cannot advocate for our clients to participate in HFPA events or interviews as we await your explicit plans and timeline for transformational change,” the letter read.

Scarlett Johansson: the actor has complained about ‘facing sexist questions and remarks by certain HFPA members that bordered on sexual harassment’. Photograph: Amy Sussman/Getty
Scarlett Johansson: the actor has complained about ‘facing sexist questions and remarks by certain HFPA members that bordered on sexual harassment’. Photograph: Amy Sussman/Getty

Scarlett Johansson popped up to complain about “facing sexist questions and remarks by certain HFPA members that bordered on sexual harassment”. She added: “It is the exact reason why I, for many years, refused to participate in their conferences. The HFPA is an organisation that was legitimized by the likes of Harvey Weinstein to amass momentum for Academy [of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences] recognition and the industry followed suit.”

Netflix announced that it would be “stopping any activities” with the organisation. Amazon confirmed that it has “not been working with the HFPA since these issues were first raised”. Yesterday Tom Cruise returned his three Globes.

Then the NBC bombshell landed.

Trade journalists seem unsure of the precise details of the contract between the network and the HFPA, but, as recently as 2018, NBC signed a broadcast licence to air the Globes for $60 million a year. That noted, Variety speculated that the announcement could “could very well serve as a permanent break between the Globes and NBC”.

The rush to disassociate from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association reflects an unease in the industry that goes back decades. As long ago as the 1960s, an investigation by the Federal Communications Commission concluded that the Globes TV show “substantially misleads the public as to how the winners were chosen and the procedures followed in choosing them”.

The most famous controversy – still sniggered about whenever the HFPA is mentioned – concerns the awarding of “best newcomer” to Pia Zadora in 1981 after her husband flew certain voting members to his hotel in Las Vegas. This year, attention turned to the surprising nomination of the much-derided Emily in Paris as best comedy series.

For all the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ flaws, the Oscar body took the fight for diversity seriously and added thousands of members to create a younger, more international, less white voting body

So why have the Globes retained their place in the awards calendar? They got in there early. The first ceremony happened in 1943, and, ever since, they have – in theory at least – offered early pointers as to contenders at the imminent Academy Awards. In their defence, the HFPA has, in recent years, managed to organise an informal, unfussy ceremony that, often lubricated by alcohol, offers a racy contrast to the more buttoned-up Oscars.

Inertia is a powerful force in entertainment politics. They were deemed important because they had long been deemed important. The words “Golden Globe winner” shouldn’t mean much on a poster, but that supposed significance encouraged the studios to seek such recognition.

More than a few influential players believe that, rather than adding a few dozen new members here and there, the HFPA needs to tear up its systems and start again from scratch. For all the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ flaws, the Oscar body took the fight for diversity seriously and, over the past few years, has added thousands of members to create a younger, more international, less white voting body.

Clayton Davis laid out the case baldly in Variety. “It’s time for NBC to step in and ask for resignations of all its current 87 members,” he writes. “The name is tainted. There is nothing ‘golden’ about the group.”

The Globes could well come back. But it will require some nifty footwork and a sincere commitment to change.

Never mind, Amazon. Never mind, NBC. Tom Cruise sent his Globes back. You don’t easily recover from that. It’s a wonder he knew where the statuettes were. “I think I saw one at the back of the garage between the Swingball and the broken leaf-blower, darling.”

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