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Golden Globes fallout: HFPA leadership hires diversity consultant, outside law firm

HFPA leaders Helen Hoehne,  Meher Tatna and Ali Sar speak at the Golden Globe Awards in late February
HFPA’s Vice President Helen Hoehne, left, board chair Meher Tatna and President Ali Sar at the 78th Golden Globe Awards on Feb. 28.
(NBC)

More than two weeks after a Times investigation into the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., and days after the group pledged “transformational change,” the HFPA leadership announced it was retaining a strategic diversity advisor and an outside law firm to “guard against any exclusionary practices,” audit bylaws and membership requirements, and review and monitor its policies.

In an emergency meeting Tuesday morning, the HFPA leadership said Shaun Harper, a professor of racial, gender and LGBT issues at USC’s Marshall School of Business as well as executive director of USC’s Race and Equity Center, had been tapped to work with the organization for five years. The HFPA has also brought in an outside law firm, Ropes & Gray, based in Boston, citing its experience advising nonprofits on high-profile corporate governance, compliance and ethics matters.

“We understand the importance of building a more inclusive organization and becoming more transparent in our operations, and these hires are an important first step,” the HFPA said in a statement posted on its website. “We remain committed to fostering an environment that better reflects our core values, affords us the opportunity to continue as valuable members of the entertainment community, and restores faith, trust, and confidence in our organization.”

The meeting was held days ahead of a scheduled monthly membership meeting as the HFPA faces growing criticism from inside and outside the organization.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Greg Goeckner, the group’s COO and general counsel, said the moves were intended to restore public confidence, and that the HFPA was committed to taking action, according to a member in attendance who was not authorized to comment.

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Though HFPA members were asked to vote to hire Harper and Ropes & Gray, they were not allowed to ask questions during the Zoom meeting, according to people who attended the session.

“When you hear it’s an emergency meeting you expect to be able to ask questions,” said another member who participated but who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation. “It was the same process as usual. Nobody was allowed to ask questions, people are angry and frustrated. We just listened to Greg [Goeckner] who gave a statement and he complained about the L.A. Times.”

After The Times highlighted the lack of Black members in the group, sparking a social media protest spearheaded by Time’s Up prior to Feb. 28’s Golden Globes, the HFPA announced that it would hire a diversity and equity expert and engage in outreach to try to recruit Black journalists and others from underrepresented backgrounds.

While the HFPA has worked in recent years to burnish its reputation largely through increased philanthropy, The Times investigation found that the group continues to engage in practices that raise questions even within its ranks, including issuing substantial payments to members to work on committees and other tasks and participating in lavish, studio-subsidized junkets for films and TV shows that are vying for Globes nominations.

The HFPA has said that it vigorously polices its policies around the perks that its members receive and that its compensation decisions are in line with practices by similar nonprofit organizations.

During last month’s Golden Globes telecast, three leaders of the HFPA — Helen Hoehne, vice president; Meher Tatna, board chair and past president; and Ali Sar, current president — took to the stage, pledging, “We recognize we have our own work to do.”

On Saturday, the group said, “We at the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. are committed to transformational change. Effective immediately, the Board — in consultation with outside advisors — will oversee reforms and be accountable for that change.”

After the HFPA’s statement, Time’s Up — which had blasted what it saw as the group’s tepid response to the controversy during the Globes — issued its own statement, expressing doubts about the HFPA’s commitment to address long-standing problems.

Time’s Up met with NBC executives last week and has been urging the network to push the HFPA to undertake reforms, according to a person who was not authorized to discuss the matter. NBC has declined to comment.

Several entertainment industry leaders also took issue with the HFPA’s response. “So, the board is gonna oversee its own reform?” director Ava DuVernay tweeted. “Same board that oversees and benefits from the current practices and has knowingly perpetuated the HFPA’s corrupt dealings and racial inequity for decades? Got it.”

Inside the HFPA, tensions have been rising. While the organization’s leadership publicly heralded a new era of transparency, members complained that they have been “kept in the dark” about planned reforms. Individual attempts to engage HFPA leadership through emails have been met with silence, according to three current members who were not authorized to speak publicly.

In recent weeks, several members have called for the leadership to resign.

“In any normal company or nonprofit, the Board and executives would have resigned over this level of scrutiny, scandal, criticism and controversy,” wrote HFPA member and Dutch journalist Diederik van Hoogstraten in an email to Sar and Goeckner.

Van Hoogstraten proposed various reforms, including opening up the membership, hiring a nonprofit expert to lead the HFPA and abolishing the elected president position.

“We are journalists (at least some of us are) and we are absolutely not qualified to lead a group with our size, financial windfall, status and influence in Hollywood,” Van Hoogstraten wrote in the email reviewed by The Times. He confirmed the email but declined to comment.

Ahead of Tuesday’s HFPA meeting, Time’s Up released its own detailed plan of action for the group to address issues involving conflicts, ethics and diversity.

The activist organization is demanding new corporate governance mechanisms be put in place, including a new board empowered by outside independent counsel; antiharassment, antibullying and antidiscrimination policies; and greater transparency.

Time’s Up also is calling for the current membership to resign and reapply under a new set of criteria after one year, saying, “The insular country club membership criteria and process must fundamentally change.”

In addition to expanding the current roster from 87 to 300, Time’s Up is asking that new applicants have “at least five years of credible journalistic experience and provide proof of at least 30 pieces of published coverage … from within the last five years,” and to remain in good standing must provide 10 pieces of coverage “per calendar year to retain voting eligibility.”

A long-standing criticism of the HFPA is that many of its members are not full-time journalists working for credible media outlets.

Time’s Up also said HFPA members should pay for their own trips, no longer accept gifts and not receive payments from the organization itself. It also called for restructuring the Globes nominating process.

“The issues with the HFPA and the Golden Globes are not new, yet have gone unaddressed by the HFPA, Dick Clark Productions, NBCUniversal, and Comcast for years. It is long past time now, in 2021, to boldly address change and to make the 2022 Golden Globes fundamentally different,” said the statement.

Asked to respond to criticism from its members and Time’s Up, an HFPA representative referred to the statement posted on its website.

Times staff writer Josh Rottenberg contributed to this report.


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