The embattled Hollywood Foreign Press Association — the organization of SoCal-based entertainment journalists for foreign media outlets that is behind the annual Golden Globe Awards — will end this week with (at least) three fewer members than it started it with, bringing its current membership total to 83, down from 87 at the time of the 78th Golden Globes last February.
On Thursday, shortly after The Hollywood Reporter reported the death of longtime member Yoram Kahana, the Los Angeles Times broke the news that two newer members, Diederik van Hoogstraten and Wenting Xu, had resigned from the group, calling it “toxic” and vowing to form a competing group of journalists — “a transparent, professional and inclusive organization for the current and next generations of reporters who simply want to work together, without the toxicity.”
The HFPA has been under fire since it was revealed in a Feb. 21 LA Times piece that the organization counted zero Black journalists among its then 87 members, and regularly conducted itself in ethically and financially improper ways. Time’s Up and a coalition of entertainment industry PR firms launched a campaign to pressure the HFPA to reform, and though the organization proposed a plan to do better (and expelled longtime member and past president Philip Berk for sending a racially insensitive email), it was deemed inadequate by Time’s Up, the PR firms and studios and networks, including Netflix and Amazon, prompting NBC, the longtime broadcaster of the Globes, to refuse to broadcast a ceremony in 2022.
Since then, the HFPA’s board has proposed new bylaws and promised sweeping reforms, some of which have already begun to be implemented. But Van Hoogstraten, an HFPA member for six years, and Xu, a member for five, say that the situation behind the scenes is bleak, alleging that “the majority of the membership resists deep change, despite our lawyers and spokespersons suggesting otherwise publicly,” in part because “many members continue to believe we are victims, an attitude that guarantees no self-reflection or change will occur.” They elaborate, “The new bylaws written by the consultants of Ropes & Gray have been watered down to meet the demands of a majority of the current Board and many change-averse members. Expanding the Board to 12 HFPA members and merely three outsiders, for example, all but guarantees the current culture will continue to thrive.”
They additionally allege that “bullying of members by fellow members” and “badgering of talent and publicists” has continued; that “a letter of complaint sent by one of us about the behavior of a fellow member, addressed to the leadership, was forwarded to the target of the letter without our knowledge or approval”; and that “Internal opposition to the status quo has been stifled. Critical voices have largely been ignored… [and] Internal transparency, never great to begin with, has actually decreased since February, so members don’t know the details about the financials anymore. But we do know payments for internal jobs have skyrocketed. Morally and fiscally, this self-dealing and sense of entitlement is a scandal in and of itself. But the lack of transparency goes beyond the financials: since February most decision-making has happened behind closed doors.”
The duo argue that “the strategy to let lawyers and a PR firm do the talking” has made the organization “come across as tone deaf for four months now. There has been no contrition, no humility, little recognition of our faults, no inspiring leadership. We do not wish to be associated with a group, ostensibly dedicated to honest journalism and free speech, that relies on consultants and lawyers to speak for them in vague, legalistic terms.” They lament, “In the spring there was a window to lead. To make clear that we understood how the HFPA could learn from its mistakes, how we could come out healthier through radical reform and radical transparency. That window has closed and Hollywood is moving on.”
The HFPA board responded with the following statement: “At a time when the overwhelming majority of our members have chosen to be a part of change, it is disappointing that some members have decided to try and splinter our organization and sow division and doubt. While some may have their own agendas, the Board and membership of the HFPA share one, common goal — passing the transformational change our organization needs. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association is an organization with more than 75 years of history. The amount of change that we have accomplished thus far is only the beginning. This is a crucial time for our organization, and we stand ready to collaborate with our members and outside groups to make this change a reality. We are forever grateful to the members that have decided to stay the course during this historic and trying time to help make this new era a reality for the HFPA.”
In July, the full HFPA membership is expected to vote on additions and amendments to the new bylaws.