We are watching the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and the Golden Globes implode in real time, and it’s kind of amazing. If you thought the awards industrial complex was completely entrenched, too big to fail, et cetera, well, the last week has really been something. To recap, before the Golden Globes, the LA Times ran an expose on the HFPA that detailed an embarrassing lack of diversity—not ONE Black member, in the year of our lady 2021—but also ethical lapses, such as self-dealing and their lavish, studio-funded trips to visit sets for “press” (Emily In Paris, a show best known as a hate-watch, scored multiple nominations after members of the HFPA received a set visit that included a stay at a $1400/night hotel in Paris). Next, the Golden Globes broadcast itself was very bad. Even by lowered Zoom standards, there was a complete lack of preparation and quality production values. Then, Dr. Shaun Harper, hired by the HFPA to be a Diversity and Inclusion Advisor, and crisis management legend Judy Smith, both abandoned the HFPA in apparent disgust after former HFPA president Phil Berk was exposed making racist statements in an email, including that Black Lives Matter is a “racist hate movement”.
Last week, Netflix took things up a notch when co-CEO Ted Sarandos sent a letter to the HFPA saying the streamer wouldn’t work with the HFPA again until they fixed their sh-t (translation: no more lavish set visits). Following Netflix’s announcement, Amazon Prime also decided to stop working with the HFPA. In case you were wondering who has the most power in Hollywood these days, it would appear to be the streaming platforms, because just three days after Netflix started the ball rolling, NBC announced they will not air the 2022 Golden Globes. Also, while some celebrities have spoken against the HFPA in recent days, Tom Cruise actually sent his three statues back. These are the highest honors Cruise has received from a professional body not named Xenu, so you know he means Serious Business. And, honestly, it now puts pressure on other celebrities to do the same. How can you condemn the HFPA but keep their prize?
Before we continue, let’s establish a couple things. YES, the HFPA is and always has been utterly ridiculous. YES, everyone has always known about the set visits and the gift bags and the glad-handing and the ass-kissing that goes into securing nominations and wins. None of this is new information, it was just exposed in black-and-white print in a way that cannot be ignored, and then Phil Berk poured gasoline on the fire, and the conflagration quickly spread beyond typical PR control. Basically, the racket got exposed as a racket, and now everyone has to be scandalized by the racket everyone always knew about.
However, NBC’s statement is not a hard and fast severing of their HFPA relationship. For one thing, they’re in the middle of a six-year broadcast contract. For another, their statement reads in part, “We are hopeful we will be in a position to air the show in January 2023.” Translation: We don’t think they’re going to get their sh-t together fast enough to make everyone happy by 2022, but we think they can do it by 2023. The Golden Globes might not be totally finished. There won’t be a show in 2022, but they could rise like a phoenix from the ashes with a reconfigured membership, new code of ethics and bylaws, and perhaps save the whole thing in 2023. Will they, though? The story so far has been the HFPA getting constantly called to the carpet for obvious shady sh-t and then making the most mealy, bare-minimum vague promises to “do better” but in ways that don’t seem like they will address the underlying issues.
Most people are just saying to hell with it, the HFPA is so fundamentally corrupt there is nothing really to reform, throw the whole thing in the garbage. And I don’t really disagree with that, but there is one thing to keep in mind as we inevitably reckon with the awards industrial complex as the media landscape continues to change in dramatic, unpredictable ways (both culturally and economically). Think about the role trophies play in helping filmmakers secure future work. This was the argument, in the last decade, for making meaningful strides to increase the diversity within the Academy, that by expanding who gets nominated for and wins Oscars, the industry expands who gets to tell stories, period. I am all ears if anyone has thoughts on how to divorce the film industry from associating awards with access, but right now, that is how the landscape is shaped. Awards matter, because the people who hand out the money assume the acquisition of nominations and wins means a filmmaker is worth investing in.
But Sarah, sometimes crappy movies win and people who are bad at movies get to keep making them. Yes, I agree. I am not defending this as a perfect system. It sucks! But the relevancy of trophies has always been about access, about who gets more money to keep making movies. The Golden Globes have taken a serious body blow this week, but, despite the chicanery of the HFPA, it is part of the awards industrial complex that has an outsize impact on who gets to tell their story. Can we take the whole thing down? Maybe! We probably should! But what replaces it? What mechanism then steps in to judge who gets to make movies? Because there will always be a mechanism for that. And don’t forget it’s not just the awards themselves, it’s the international network of film festivals that feeds the award season maw, the arthouse and independent theaters that showcase the nominees, and on, and on, and on. The trophies are just the top of the pyramid, there is a whole base designed to support them. And all of it plays a major role in access and financing. So, throw the whole Golden Globes out. I’m just not sure we’ll like what replaces it any better.