Golden Globes group spars over reforms on eve of key vote
Last Tuesday, after a four-month standoff in which a contingent of powerful entertainment publicists held fast to their boycott of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., the two sides finally met over Zoom.
However, the meeting with dozens of HFPA members and directors and their consultants did not mark an auspicious start to renewed relations between the parties, nor did it augur well for a revamped HFPA, the group behind the Golden Globes.
Anke Hofmann, a member representing Germany, became emotional while quoting the writer Baratunde Thurston’s Fourth of July message, “Dear America,” remarking tearfully on its “call for reflection” and the “healing power of love,” according to a recording of portions of the meeting obtained by The Times.
Another member, Tina Jøhnk Christensen of Denmark, complained about the financial hardship imposed on the group since the publicists cut off all activities with their clients in March. The exclusive access to actors and Hollywood power players long enjoyed by HFPA members was their “bread and butter,” she said. “And right now, as you can imagine, we’re not making money.”
Later, Dagmar Dunlevy, a German-born Canadian member, lashed out at the publicists while disparaging the reform process, questioning calls for diversity.
“Our members — imagine how diverse we are. We’ve got Muslims and Jews and Catholics, etc.... We want to change. We want to do good things, but it doesn’t have to be this drastic.” She then added, “Let’s not be overly woke.”
Some of the publicists expressed frustration at the lack of reform details and bristled at the implication that they were responsible for the HFPA’s plight. “We did not create the situation, you did,” responded Kelly Bush Novak, the founder and chief executive of ID PR and one of the organizers of the publicists’ contingent.
While the encounter did not yield anything substantive, it did highlight just how vast the divide remains between the group, the Hollywood publicists and others pressing for serious changes a week before HFPA members are set to vote on much-anticipated reforms.
Pressure on the HFPA has mounted in Hollywood in the five months since a Times investigation brought to light allegations of financial and ethical lapses and pointed out that not one of the HFPA’s then-87 members was Black. In May, NBC pulled the plug on the 2022 Golden Globes broadcast after Netflix cut ties with the organization “until more meaningful changes are made.” The streamer was followed by Amazon, WarnerMedia and Neon, the indie studio behind “Parasite.”
In another development, HFPA members met with Todd Boehly on Wednesday during which he proposed a for-profit spinoff of the HFPA. Boehly is the chairman of Eldridge Industries, the parent company of Dick Clark Productions, the longtime producer of the Golden Globes.
The new entity would be governed by a 15-member board. It would also implement new criteria and requirements for membership into the HFPA. Under the new plan, the organization would add 50 journalist voters, with a focus on diversity, according to an individual familiar with the matter.
Boehly wasn’t immediately available for comment.
The HFPA is expected to announce its decision on the new bylaws around Aug. 3. However, despite the board’s public commitment to “transformational reforms,” it remains uncertain that the group has enough votes to achieve a majority to actually approve them. Even if the bylaw changes do pass, critics inside and outside the HFPA say steps being taken fall well short of what is needed to transform the association, which they say has been hobbled by infighting and a lack of leadership.
“I’m not confident this is going to be good for the organization,” said one reform-minded HFPA member who declined to be identified for fear of retaliation.
Last month, two members resigned in protest over what they called the group’s “toxic” culture and “status quo” reform efforts.
In their letter of resignation, Diederik van Hoogstraten from the Netherlands and Wenting Xu of China wrote, “The new bylaws written by the legal consultants of Ropes & Gray have been watered down significantly to meet the demands of the current Board and many change-averse members.”
The HFPA board defended the proposed bylaws. “The notion that the bylaws ‘fall short’ from recommendations from our members and Ropes and Gray is untrue and not consistent with the facts,” the board said in a statement. “The proposed bylaws we are considering are largely what Ropes recommends and include thoughtful feedback from both our entire membership and various stakeholders.”
In the lead-up to the new bylaws, the HFPA board began implementing a series of measures; it established a hotline for reporting incidents anonymously and hired two outside law firms to investigate them. The board also retained a new diversity consultant; the first had quit after five weeks on the job. The association also approved a new code of conduct.
In a bid to demonstrate its transparency, the HFPA had agreed to post members’ biographies and their media affiliations and publications on its website by the end of May. But after Jenny Cooney of Australia objected during a meeting, saying the postings could hurt their careers, several members agreed and the group decided to postpone a vote on the matter until later this summer, according to three people who attended the meeting.
HFPA’s current bylaws require a majority two-thirds vote to pass any bylaw changes.
The draft bylaws described to The Times are preliminary and subject to change. Some of the proposals fall under members’ conduct at media conferences, which has long been the subject of complaints among actors and publicists.
Members would no longer be allowed to take selfies with talent or solicit autographs or lob disrespectful questions; unethical or unprofessional behavior would not be tolerated.
HFPA members would continue to travel to media junkets and festivals, with the organization footing the airfare and studios picking up hotel stays, and with the number of members attending limited. But HFPA members would no longer be allowed to receive gifts from the studios, networks and celebrities.
The proposed bylaws outline few details around committee structure and payments, except to say that the association may pay reasonable compensation to anyone for their services. Further, payments to members would comply with an undefined compensation policy, determined by the board with the advice of salary consultants.
The Times’ investigation found that the nonprofit HFPA regularly issues substantial payments to its own members in ways that some experts say could run afoul of Internal Revenue Service guidelines. HFPA members collected nearly $2 million in payments from the group in its fiscal year that ended in June 2020. The HFPA has said its compensation policies are in line with those of other nonprofit groups.
The recommendations appear largely to consolidate power among the leadership, while ensuring the group’s composition would be made up of existing members for the foreseeable future.
For instance, despite several recommendations that the board be composed of an even split between HFPA members and independent directors, the amendment under review would expand the current board to 15 people, three of whom would be outside directors elected by the board.
Although corporate managers including a CEO and chief financial officer would be installed, they would serve for one-year terms, at the discretion of the board, which would also appoint them.
A major criticism of the HFPA is that it favors members who are not full-time reporters or who work for obscure media outlets to the exclusion of serious journalists, and admits few new applicants.
The advocacy group Time’s Up and others have urged the HFPA to expand membership from 80-plus to a minimum of 300 journalists. They’ve also called for current members to step down and reapply under new, stricter requirements.
While the association would enhance efforts to grow the ranks with a focus on members of color, existing members would not be required to reapply. The amended criteria call for members to produce eight pieces of work during the last 24 months.
Candidates would be chosen by a nine-person credentials committee, comprising four HFPA members — one of whom would be the HFPA’s president — and five outside journalism professionals. Initially, an oversight committee would pick the five outsiders; afterward, the board would select them.
One of the biggest changes concerns nonworking and lifetime members. Emeritus members would no longer be eligible for HFPA-sponsored travel such as junkets and festivals and they would not be able to vote for Globes awards and other group activities.
Although considered an accommodation to retain longtime members, the proposal has provoked a backlash.
Yenny Nun, a longtime member from Chile, who has called the reform process a “hostile takeover,” wrote to lawyers at Ropes & Gray and others, saying “elderly” HFPA members, like those at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences should be able to “vote and participate until they pass away,” according to her email reviewed by The Times. Further, she wrote, withdrawing those “rights” of such members “will be considered Discrimination, Racism and Xenophobia.”
“With your proposed changes, you are opening the door for a Class Action Suit,” she said.
Nun has tweeted out similar opinions. In an email to The Times, Nun declined to comment beyond writing, “The Twitters speak for themselves.”
In an email responding to Nun, Ropes & Gray attorney James Dowden wrote: “We don’t see any foundation for claims that the proposed amended and restated bylaws are an ‘illegal victimization’ of any members of the HFPA. But are happy to evaluate such claims if you can provide more information about their basis.”
Dowden added, “The Association is at its core a trade association of working journalists,” and limiting voting rights and benefits to active members is “appropriate” and “consistent with the tax laws.”
“Ropes & Gray was hired by HFPA to make recommendations for transformational change, including best practices for governance, and we have now completed our work,” the firm’s spokesperson said in a statement. “During our five month engagement our team proposed important reforms. We thank the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for having worked with us.”
Nun is not alone in her thinking.
After the group met last week to review the latest round of draft bylaws, Judy Solomon, who represents Israel, took a stand, saying that if the emeritus clause is included in the final bylaws, “I will immediately resign my 65-year membership,” according to an email obtained by The Times. Calling the measure “an act of age discrimination and a grave insult to my professional life achievement,” Solomon wrote that she would join Nun “and her group to launch a class action lawsuit.”
Solomon did not respond to a request for comment.
“As with any changes this significant, there is bound to be debate, dissent and disagreement,” the HFPA board said in a statement. “Our members have always been free to express their opinions.”
Meanwhile, those calling for systemic reforms say they have been branded as disloyal or worse.
After Van Hoogstraten and Xu resigned, members called the pair “rats” and a “cancer,” according to an email chain viewed by The Times.
In an interview before she exited, Xu compared her former colleagues to “a bunch of logs floating in the river about to fall in the ocean. But they decide to stay in the river and point fingers and criticize each other. They should have gotten out of the river and looked at the situation from above and seen what’s wrong.”
Times staff writer Josh Rottenberg contributed to this report.
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