The Hollywood Foreign Press Association does penance for its sins

The 79th annual Golden Globe Awards ceremony was held in the Beverly Hilton on January 9th, which means that photos of the guests’ dresses and clips of their speeches should be all over the internet by now. That’s certainly how things usually go. Organised by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (hfpa), the Golden Globes are considered an important early indicator of which films will go on to triumph throughout “awards season”, culminating with the Oscars. The event is also renowned for being less stuffy than most film and television awards ceremonies, while matching them all in terms of glamour. This year was different.

The results came out as usual. As expected, Jane Campion’s moody Western, “The Power of the Dog”, was the big winner in the film drama categories, and Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” was the big winner in the comedy or musical section. Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s “Drive My Car”, this year’s critics’ favourite, was picked as best film in a non-English language; Disney’s “Encanto” was best animated motion picture; and Kenneth Branagh’s much-touted “Belfast” won the screenplay award. Will Smith won a Globe for playing the father of Serena and Venus Williams in “King Richard”, and Nicole Kidman won one for playing Lucille Ball in “Being The Ricardos”. On the television side, “Succession” was a success.

Whether the event itself was a success is another matter. This year the ceremony was a masked and socially distanced affair, behind closed doors, with no red carpet outside, and no media or celebrities inside. Proceedings were neither televised nor live-streamed, thus raising the philosophical question: if an awards bash is thrown in Hollywood, and no one is around to watch it, does it make any headlines?

The reasons why everything was so subdued date back to last February, when the Los Angeles Times ran a series of exposés on the hfpa’s workings. The association itself, consisting of about 100 members, was described as a “tiny group full of quirky characters…who contribute sporadically to…obscure overseas outlets”. The articles then noted the high fees these characters paid themselves for their administrative duties, and the luxurious press trips and gifts which were bestowed on them by studios. One notorious example was a lavish Paris junket set up by the makers of the Paramount/Netflix show, “Emily In Paris”. More than 30 members of the hfpa were wined and dined in style, and “Emily In Paris” went on to secure two Golden Globe nominations, despite being dismissed by critics. Meanwhile, Michaela Coel’s acclaimed bbc series, “I May Destroy You”, didn’t get a single nod.

None of this was earth-shattering news. Even by Hollywood standards, the hfpa has long had a murky reputation. The really embarrassing statistic was the hfpa’s lack of black members. The Academy Awards had been buffeted by #OscarsSoWhite campaigns for the previous six years, so the revelation that the association hadn’t had a single black member in two decades was impossible to ignore. The hfpa responded by announcing a raft of reforms last May, and promising that its newly expanded membership would represent minority groups. These vague pledges didn’t impress anyone. Within a week, Amazon Studios, Netflix and WarnerMedia had all said that they would have nothing more to do with the hfpa, and nbc said that it wouldn’t televise the Golden Globes in 2022. If that weren’t humiliating enough, Tom Cruise returned the three Golden Globe prizes he had won.

It is curious that none of the boycotters had noticed any problems with the association before. Who, after all, had paid for the many presents and junkets which hfpa members had received over the years? Then again, similar questions could be asked about the other highly publicised shake-ups in the film industry concerning sexual harassment and racism. Overdue or not, wrongdoings which had been overlooked for too long aren’t being overlooked any more.

The hfpa’s members can take some consolation in knowing that Hollywood’s movers and shakers love to accept prizes. They also love it when movie stars fall from grace, go through a period of penance, and then return to the spotlight. The Golden Globes have lost their lustre. But after this year’s shy, retiring performance, they could still make a comeback.

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