Home Lifestyle The Golden Globes seemed like they were done for. So why are...

The Golden Globes seemed like they were done for. So why are they still happening?

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On Monday, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association will announce nominations for the 79th Annual Golden Globes.

File picture: AFP

ON MONDAY, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association will announce nominations for the 79th Annual Golden Globes, proving, for better or worse, the old industry maxim, “the show must go on.”

Fuzzy on the recent tidal wave of controversy that’s engulfed the Globes and the member organization that hands them out? You are forgiven. 2021 has been a tumultuous year for the HFPA, a relatively small group that has held frustrating sway over the film and TV industry thanks to its highly rated awards ceremony.

A watershed investigation by the Los Angeles Times published in February stripped away the layers of lustre that the association basked in for decades, uncovering infighting, questionable journalistic ethics, possible financial missteps and, most damningly, the public revelation that there was not a single black member.

Outrage, much of it pent up for years, soon followed. Powerful publicists, who once considered the Globes their celebrity Super Bowl, turned their backs. Tom Cruise returned his three trophies. NBC cut ties, announcing that it would not broadcast the 2022 show. Hollywood as a whole called on the HFPA to exit stage left, take a beat and come back stronger (and more diverse, more legitimate) in 2023. But, alas, Monday is happening.

So how did we get here? How did the Golden Globes go from the Oscars’ favourite cousin to the industry’s embarrassingly drunk uncle? Consider this the unofficial CliffsNotes for the HFPA’s most difficult year to date.

– First things first, who are these people again? What is the HFPA?

The Golden Globes are voted on by a non-profit group made up of foreign journalists. Founded in 1943, the La La Land organization took shape when a group of international entertainment reporters banded together to prove that Hollywood stories mattered overseas. The association is small – tiny, even. Before reforms were implemented earlier this year, the HFPA had only 87 active members. By comparison, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, which votes on the Oscars, is more than 5,000 strong.

The credentials of the foreign press association’s members has remained iffy over the years. While some of the HFPA’s members are legit journalists working full-time for credible news organizations based abroad, others write sporadically as a side gig for little-known publications.

– Then how did this small organization of “maybe” journalists become so powerful?

One word, two syllables: award.

“That’s what (the studios) care about,” explained Ben Fritz, author of the book “The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies.”

“They don’t care about the HFPA, per se,” he said, describing the foreign press as “a very small group of people that have this huge influence and that the studios have to carefully court.”

Because if there is anything the entertainment industry loves more than free publicity, it’s guaranteed publicity. Gold statues – and more specifically highly rated network broadcast presentations – provide studios with glitzy photos opportunities, weeks of advertisement and a potential bump in ticket sales at the box office. Big awards ceremonies also help construct the red carpet mythology Hollywood magic is made of, so the pull of the Globes is almost irresistible.

– Why are the Golden Globes the audience’s favourite award show?

The Globes consistently average high ratings. 2020′s broadcast, which aired in January before the pandemic, brought in more than 18 million viewers, far outpacing the pre-pandemic Emmys (which garnered about 7 million viewers in 2019) and catching up with the Oscars (which had more than 23 million viewers in February 2020).

“Frankly, a lot of people agree that it’s a more enjoyable show to watch than the Oscars or the Emmys,” said Fritz.

Often painted as the “fun” one, the Globes is chock-full of recognizable A-list stars and has long cultivated a casual clubby vibe, especially as one of the few ceremonies where participants actively drink alcohol and mingle with stars from other projects at chummy tables in the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

“The pressure isn’t really on, because it isn’t a gateway to the Oscars like the (Screen Actors Guild) Awards are,” said Hollywood journalist and professor Mary Murphy, who teaches media at the University of Southern California. “People were more relaxed. They were in the moment in the night, rather than thinking down the road. And I think that made for some of the relaxed, fun atmosphere.”

The Globes does well by sticking to boldfaced awards and skipping “below the line” categories; audiences never have to sit through a speech for best sound mixing, for example. The show also combines film and television, which, in the age of streaming, is a perfect storm for those watching at home.

– Sounds like a win-win. Then what’s the problem? Where’s the controversy?

Which one? Industry insiders and plenty of A-listers themselves have been quietly and publicly complaining about the HFPA’s outsize influence for years, especially given the fact that its members’ journalistic credentials are murky at best.

One of the association’s first major Globes-related hiccups was in 1982, when actress Pia Zadora beat out Elizabeth McGovern and Kathleen Turner to win new female star of the year for the widely panned film “Butterfly.” Weeks before getting her Globe, Zadora’s billionaire husband flew members of the HFPA to his casino in Las Vegas for some fun in the sun. The timing was … questionable. The fallout led CBS, then the ceremony’s broadcast partner, to drop the show.

– How did the Globes get back on top after that first controversy?

In 1983, TV host and producer Dick Clark stepped in with his eponymous production company and saved the day. He made the ceremony more professional, got actors involved as presenters, which added more cred to the affair, and, in 1995, scored a major broadcast deal with NBC, where the show remained for decades.

– What was the final straw?

The chummy relationship between the HFPA and studio’s continued pretty much unchecked until the LA Times’ investigation in February.

“People in Hollywood have privately been complaining about the HFPA for years and years. They know the Golden Globes isn’t as respectable as the academy, but they’re used for promotion and they can’t help themselves,” said Fritz.

– What was the biggest revelation in the Times investigation?

While the story detailed the foreign press association’s history of schmoozing and raised red flags in regards to its financial practices as a tax-exempt non-profit organization, the biggest issue was diversity – or lack thereof. The paper noted that “while the HFPA’s ranks include a number of people of colour, there are no black members.”

“When you are perceived as an organization that lacks diversity, it is a difficult thing to come back from,” said Murphy.

While the organization had long been accused of being out of touch and easily swayed, the nominations for 2021 made clear the priorities of its members. “Emily in Paris,” Netflix’s bubble-gum show about a White woman living in France, earned two Golden Globes nominations, while a critical darling like HBO’s “I May Destroy You,” a series about a sexual assault created and starring a black woman, was shut out completely. The Times revealed that more than a third of the HFPA members had been flown to the French set of “Emily in Paris” in 2019.

There was immediate public and professional outcry following the article, which was released approximately a week before the next ceremony. Though the issues were lightly addressed during the Feb. 28 broadcast, it was otherwise business as usual. However, the pandemic show’s ratings took a nose dive, averaging 6.9 million viewers – a 60 percent drop from the year before – and the lowest rating since NBC began airing it.

– How did the HFPA respond?

In response to the airing of its dirty laundry, the HFPA pledged to make “transformational change.” The group hired its first-ever chief diversity officer and installed a new president, German journalist Helen Hoehne. It also adopted new by-laws, rules that prohibit members from accepting gifts from studios, and added outside board members for the first time.

The group, which notoriously keeps its ranks small and has been sued for denying membership to other legitimate foreign journalists, also added 21 new members to its rolls. According to the HFPA, 29 percent of the new member class identify as black. The group also partnered with the NAACP in an initiative to increase diversity in the entertainment industry as a whole.

“Change does not happen overnight, but I can assure you this group is committed to continuing to do the work,” Hoehne wrote in a recent statement to The Washington Post.

– Were the changes enough?

In short, no. Less than three months after the Times investigation, NBC announced it was done with the HFPA and the Globes – for now. “We continue to believe that the HFPA is committed to meaningful reform,” the network said in a May statement. “However, change of this magnitude takes time and work, and we feel strongly that the HFPA needs time to do it right. As such, NBC will not air the 2022 Golden Globes. Assuming the organization executes on its plan, we are hopeful we will be in a position to air the show in January 2023.”

– Wait, are the Globes cancelled or not?

Not. Despite Hollywood taking a break from the HFPA, the organization announced in October that it would be handing out awards in 2022, even without a broadcast partner. The news came as a surprise to industry stakeholders, many of whom saw the Globes as tainted. To circumvent that, the HFPA eliminated their long-held submission requirement that required studios to submit their projects and stars for award consideration.

– Why let the show go on?

“It would very risky to skip a year and then try to come back,” said Fritz. The public and the studios might not miss the award show, which would permanently damage its reputation. “People could be like, ‘There was no Golden Globes this year and we did just fine.’ … Their calculated risk is it’s better to have a shadow of an awards show, but still exist, then no show at all.”

– What’s going to happen after Monday’s nominations?

This year’s Globes have a rain cloud hanging over them, but remember: Hollywood loves a good award and can rarely resist an opportunity to congratulate itself – and publicize its projects. The big question is whether studios will tout their nominations or look the other way, pretending for now as if the HFPA doesn’t exist.

– THE WASHINGTON POST

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