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Ahead of Golden Globes nominations, many remain wary of the group behind the awards

Updated December 12, 2021 at 5:20 PM ET

Since 1944, the Golden Globes have been the casual, boozy celebration that kicked off Hollywood's awards season. Celebrities from film and television sat at tables toasting each other's wins. Unlike the Oscars, you could bump into a glamorous star primping in the restroom, or take a selfie with them in the hallway.

"It was the most fun event. It had the best hosts. It was irreverent. They made fun of each other, they made fun of the industry," recalls longtime entertainment journalist Mary Murphy. For many years, she covered Hollywood for the L.A. Times, Entertainment Tonight, TV Guide and other outlets. She's now an associate professor at University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. "It was like hobnobbing with the rich and the famous and the beautiful."

Still, Murphy says there's always been criticism of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the small group of journalists from international media who vote on the winners each year. "They had power because there was a deal between the industry and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association," she says. "They didn't play by the same rules. They took gifts. They took free trips. They went on junkets paid for by the studio or the networks."

But that deal finally broke down last year.

Norwegian journalist Kjersti Flaa sued the HFPA, saying she and other legitimate journalists were repeatedly barred from joining. She accused the group of having a "culture of corruption" and operating as a kind of cartel, "[monopolizing] the foreign entertainment reporting market." That anti-trust lawsuit was dismissed, but she continues to appeal it. (The HFPA has said her suit is filled with "salacious and false allegations.")

Then days before the 2021 Golden Globes ceremony in February, the Los Angeles Times published investigations that raised questions about how the HFPA operates. The stories recounted years of scandal, including various allegations that members have received perks from studios and producers in exchange for their votes. The HFPA has denied such allegations.

The paper reported the tax-exempt non-profit organization paid its 87 members more than a million dollars in recent years to serve on various committees.

The L.A. Times investigations also found the group had major gaps in racial diversity. During the televised ceremony, co-host Tina Fey called them out.

"There are no Black members of the Hollywood Foreign Press," she announced with the cameras rolling. "I realize, HFPA, maybe you guys didn't get the memo because your workplace is the back booth of a French McDonald's, but you gotta change that."

The backlash from Hollywood was swift.

NBC pulled the plug on televising the 2022 Golden Globes. Major studios, including Netflix, announced they'd no longer deal with the HFPA until changes were made.

Filmmakers Ava DuVernay and Shonda Rhimes and A-list celebrities Scarlett Johansson and Tom Cruise spoke out against the HFPA.

And more than 100 publicity agencies signed a joint letter demanding that the HFPA reform.

In the months since, the scandal-ridden trade association has rewritten its bylaws and added new outside advisors and board members.

"We were the first ones to say we need some fixing — and that fixing has been done and continues," says German journalist Helen Hoehne, who was elected HFPA President in September after serving as its vice president. She says all the members were independently reviewed and reaccredited.

And they had to sign a new code of conduct, which spells out that "members are prohibited from corruptly accepting, agreeing to accept, demanding, or soliciting anything of value in exchange for an action taken by the member in his or her HFPA capacity."

"So let's say we find you, I don't know, doing something really inappropriate," she says. "There are very harsh consequences. You may be expelled from the association. So I mean, people will think twice now."

The HFPA pledged to increase its membership by 50%. So far, it has added 21 new members — six of them Black. In all, according to Hoehne, there are now 103 members, including 12 Latinos, 18 Asians, and nine from the Middle East. The organization insists it has always been diverse, representing many countries. But critics say until now, the HFPA failed to understand what diversity means in this country.

Three of the new members told NPR they feel welcome by the organization. Ruben Peralta Rigaud, who writes for the Mexican website SensaCine, says he's "happy to be part of the new change." Mario Pacheco Székely, who writes for El Universal newspaper in Mexico, says he excited to be part of the "United Nations of journalists in Hollywood." And K.J. Matthews, a Los Angeles native who freelances for the BBC, Germany's DW TV, and Australia's ABC TV Network, says, "We're hoping that over time, people will see the transformation that the HFPA has gone through and give us a chance."

HFPA President Helen Hoehne insists the organization has addressed everything it promised. The HFPA is moving forward with awarding the upcoming Golden Globes in January, even though the ceremony won't be televised. They plan to announce nominees on Monday morning.

But many in Hollywood remain wary.

In June, two members resigned from the organization. They cited a "toxic" culture of corruption, verbal abuse and fear of retribution. Chinese journalist Wenting Xu, one former member, is skeptical of the HFPA's changes.

"They didn't think it was their fault," she says. "To them it was Hollywood forcing them to change."

Xu says she's still waiting for radical reform. "This organization has to basically end, and then restart from the ground."

Hollywood doesn't seem ready to forgive the HFPA just yet, if ever. USC's Murphy says the group is now tainted.

"There's so many relationships in Hollywood they have to repair. Not just within NBC, it's with every studio, every publicist, stars," she explains.

The next big question is if anyone will show up to the Golden Globes awards ceremony. It's set for January 9th — the same night the Critics Choice Awards will be broadcast.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.
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