Golden Globes

A guide to understanding the Golden Globes controversy

The Golden Globes have been a prestigious and powerful award ceremony ever since its establishment in January 1944. However, this year’s awards have quietly passed in January without their usual glamour and star-filled red carpet. While most of the other award ceremonies are scheduled to go on, as usual, the Golden Globes’ 2022 ceremony did not happen at all.

Thus, you may be wondering what happened to this year’s ceremony and what exactly is the controversy around the Golden Globes Awards regarding their concerning lack of diversity and alleged unethical behaviour.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association

The first important piece of information unknown to most is that the Golden Globes Awards are conducted by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA). Although often not talked about, the latter is to this day a very powerful agent in the entertainment industry.

It is a non-profit organization made up of journalists and photographers predominantly based outside the United States who report on US entertainment media. It consists of about 90 members from around 55 different countries. It is the HFPA  that is at the centre of the controversies that have shaken the 2022 awards.

It is interesting to notice that the Golden Globes awards are ultimately presented and decided by only 90 people, which is a strikingly small number when compared to other major awards. For example, the Academy Awards voting members are around 9000, similarly, the BAFTAs members are 6000, while for the Emmys Awards there are as many as 20000.

However, that is not the only problem that clouds the HFPA membership. A report revealed accusations of gatekeeping within the HFPA, exposing the fact that many members are not journalists, to begin with. Furthermore, they don’t reside or come from the country they are supposed to represent as well as the barring of qualified applicants who would see their membership to the HFPA refused, despite meeting the right criteria. 

A Norwegian journalist, Kjersti Flaa, whose membership was rejected multiple times filed an antitrust lawsuit against the HFPA on the grounds of the organization acting as a cartel and essentially monopolizing the market of foreign entertainment journalists and calling for the removal of all non-objective criteria in the membership rule.

The lawsuit was ultimately thrown out as the judge claimed that Flaa did not suffer economic hardship as a result of not being accepted as a member of the HFPA and that the HFPA itself was not subject to the right of fair procedure. However, the lawsuit did expose the HFPA’s corruption and harmed their already declining public image, prompting a whistle-blower of the HFPA to speak out, calling the organization archaic and needing change.

Criticism: Corruption and Racism

The lawsuit also exposed ethical conflicts within the institution, with members accepting thousands of dollars as salary. A 2021 investigation by the Los Angeles Times discovered that every member is regularly paid more than 1 million USD annually. This is particularly problematic due to the HFPA’s status as a tax-exempt non-profit organization.

Furthermore, as stated in Flaa’s lawsuit, the HFPA is responsible for institutionalizing a culture of corruption: the Golden Globes are allegedly much easier to influence than other major awards with nominations or awards being exchanged for gifts and access to stars and film sets.

In fact, in the history of the award ceremony, there have been cases of members accepting expensive gifs, such as expensive restaurants or hotels, and invitations to access the film sets and talk to the actors as the films or tv series that would later win the Golden Globes were being filmed. 

For example, this is what happened with Emily in Paris. When the Netflix show, which received widespread criticism because of its stereotypical portrayal of French people, was amongst the 2021 nominees in two categories, many criticized this decision and were frustrated by it, especially in light of the fact that other deserving and impactful shows, namely I May Destroy You, were not even nominated.

It was later revealed that in 2019, around 30 members of the HFPA were invited on an all-expenses-paid trip to Paris to visit the set and gifted a two-night stay at a famous five-star hotel by the network that produced Emily in Paris

Golden Globes

This is even more concerning as it is not the first time something like this happens: in 1982, when Pia Zadora won the New Star of the Year Golden Globe, many accused the members to have been bought off by Zadora’s multimillionaire husband who flew the HFPA members to his casino in Las Vegas and invited them to a private showing of the film accompanied by a lavish lunch.

More recently, in 2011, Sony, distributor of The Tourist, whose Golden Globes nomination was received with skepticism, allegedly influenced the voting members via similar means, gifting them an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas which included a Cher concert as part of it.

Although the controversies surrounding the Golden Globes eventually exploded in 2021, it is clear that the HFPA is certainly not new to this type of criticism. In fact, the awards, and therefore the HFPA’s, public image has been tainted by past criticism long before last year: in 1958, Henry Gris, former president of the organisation, resigned stating that certain awards were given as favours.

The controversies, however, go much beyond the issues of corruption: in 2018, actor Brendan Fraser accused the now-former president Phillip Berk of sexual harassment, Berk was found guilty of inappropriate behaviour after an internal investigation that, however, concluded that he meant no harm and remained in his position as president. 

Furthermore, criticism arose in 2020 when Asian and Asian American films, particularly The Farewell and Parasite, were relegated to the Best Foreign Language Film category and excluded from other major categories, such as Best Motion Picture, contrary to what other film awards did. Similarly, in 2021 Minari, a film exclusively produced and set in the US and mainly in the English language was categorized as a foreign language film, prompting further accusations of anti-Asian racism.

The Asian hate is especially evident considering that other non-Asian films, such as Inglorious Basterds, were nominated for Best Motion Picture despite not meeting the rule of having at least 50% English dialogue to be nominated in such a category. 

The accusations of racism unfortunately go far beyond this. A 2021 report by the Los Angeles Times exposed that there were no black members amongst the HFPA, which was subject to scrutiny, particularly in light of the lack of diversity in nominations.

Further, the exposé revealed that there has been no new black member since 2002,  underlining that the current criteria, in particular the requirement to be sponsored by two current members, is harmful and discriminatory towards the recruiting of new black members.

A few months after the report, an email in which the then-president Phillip Berk talked about the Black Lives Matter movement as a racist hate group, was made public; Beck was immediately expelled from the organization after this but the lack of diversity still remains an issue, one that prompted the boycott of this year’s ceremony.

What happened to the 2022 Golden Globes ceremony?

On January 9, 2022, the Golden Globes took place as a private event without an audience, without stars, without any red carpet, and without being televised. The winners were announced through social media, far from the glamour of the broadcasted previous editions.

In order to respond to the criticism, the HFPA came up with a reform package that included efforts to increase its membership by 20 percent every year. Further reforms included hiring a new strategic diversity officer and implementing an action plan that would bring in black members as well as journalists from under-represented backgrounds.

Golden Globes

While it is true that the HFPA tried to implement some changes, many felt that the proposed changes were not enough and did not address the structural issues that caused the controversy in the first place. As Tina Tchen, the CEO of Time’s Up, said in a statement last year, the approved list of changes “contains no specifics, no commitments to real accountability or change, and no real timeline to implement these changes.” 

Thus, the boycott seemed to have no intention of stopping until some structural change is implemented. Many production companies, including big players like Netflix and later Amazon Studios and Warnermedia, declared they would stop working with the HFPA until significant changes were made. Similarly, NBC, the American tv channel that had historically aired the ceremony every year, announced it would not air the 2022 Awards.

The network stated that they are hopeful they will be able to air the 2023 Golden Globes if the HFPA implements meaningful change by then. Many celebrities followed in boycotting the Golden Globes: everyone allegedly refused to be present at the award ceremony, while many did not acknowledge their nominations nor win on social media, and various actors have been vocal about their rejection of the award ceremony. For example, Tom Cruise returned his three trophies and Scarlett Johansson spoke to Variety, calling out the HFPA members for their questions and remarks that, as she stated, “bordered on sexual harassment.”

The Golden Globes controversy makes me wonder what the future for award ceremonies will look like: is there hope for reformation? It is undeniably interesting to see the scope and power that this boycott has had on one of the most important awards of the year when Hollywood’s very own step up in the face of unfairness against what used to be their own glamourous party was considered as a badge of honour.

This event is, in fact, rather telling. Is this what we can achieve if we all come together to fight inequalities and racism and hold anyone, no matter how powerful, accountable?