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Fighting for a comeback, Golden Globes group hires a chief diversity officer

A smiling man in a striped shirt and gray blazer.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. announced the appointment of Neil Phillips as its chief diversity officer.
(HFPA)

In the latest step in its ongoing effort to remake itself, the group behind the Golden Globe Awards, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., announced Wednesday that it has hired Neil Phillips as its first chief diversity officer.

The appointment of Phillips, who is an Aspen Institute Education Entrepreneurship Fellow and a member of the inaugural Echoing Green/Open Society Foundation Black Male Achievement Fellowship, comes just weeks after the HFPA announced it has forged a five-year collaborative partnership with the NAACP aimed at tackling issues of diversity and equity both within the organization and across the entertainment industry.

“Neil brings a powerful voice for inclusion and diversity not just to the HFPA but also to the Hollywood community and media industry. Through our reform process, we believe it is not sufficient to just make progress internally but also necessary to provide a platform for greater diversity and inclusion in our industry and the entertainment community our members cover,” said Helen Hoehne, HFPA president. “His willingness to talk openly about uncomfortable subjects and lead by example makes him an exceptional voice for change and we look forward to supporting his work.”

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The appointment of Phillips to a permanent leadership position follows a series of reforms the HFPA has undertaken as it attempts to move past a firestorm that followed the publication of a Feb. 21 Times investigation. The investigation highlighted the fact that the group had no Black members, along with a range of issues regarding the group’s governance and its financial and journalistic practices. That ensuing controversy led to a boycott by Hollywood studios and stars that eventually forced NBC to pull the plug on the Globes broadcast for 2022.

The embattled Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. said it will hold its awards in January, but all signs say the industry isn’t ready to participate.

Last month, the HFPA — which has long faced accusations of overlooking Black-led projects — announced it was adding 21 members to its ranks, including six who are Black. The new class of journalists is by far the largest that the tiny but improbably powerful group has ever accepted, bringing its total membership to 105.

After graduating from Harvard and playing basketball professionally in Australia, Phillips embarked on a career as an educator, coach and entrepreneur. He spent 10 years in administrative leadership roles at his alma mater, Landon School, before moving on to co-found Visible Men Academy, a public charter school in Bradenton, Fla. He is currently working on a documentary film focusing on race and Black male achievement.

“The HFPA has welcomed me and given me the opportunity to work not only with them but the broader Hollywood and media industries that have struggled to discuss these issues of race openly and candidly without fear,” Phillips said in a statement. “I have always believed love is the answer to just about everything and if that makes people uncomfortable, that’s OK because discomfort signals an opportunity for growth and discussion. I’ve spent my entire career managing my own discomfort and diving deeply into the realm of breaking the bonds of systemic racism and having the uncomfortable, yet productive, conversations that can radically change organizations and individual lives.”

With NBC sticking firm to its decision not to air the Globes in January, the HFPA has nevertheless declared its intention to move ahead with plans to hand out awards in 2022. But the form that such a ceremony could take is unclear at this point, and — with a coalition of talent publicists continuing to withhold access to A-list stars and studios publicly keeping their distance from the HFPA as awards season ramps up — it is far from certain whether Hollywood will throw its support behind even a nontelevised event.

Despite those obstacles, the HFPA insists it is continuing to deliver the “transformational change” the group promised in March. Instituting that change in what is a notoriously fractious group has often been a messy process, however. In April, the group’s newly hired diversity consultant quit just days after an email leaked in which former eight-term HFPA president Phil Berk likened Black Lives Matter to a hate group. (Berk stepped down after NBC and Dick Clark Productions demanded his ouster.)

In announcing Phillips’ appointment, Hoehne expressed appreciation for the HFPA’s diversity, equity and inclusion consultants, Leadership Lab International, with whom the group has worked since June.

“We are so appreciative of the work that LLI has done, and grateful for Neil’s willingness to collaborate with them, to ensure a seamless transition as we evolve our organization to make this a permanent role at the HFPA. LLI has helped us to change the way we think and communicate as an organization, and we are grateful for them,” Hoehne said.


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