Why the HFPA’s Token Gesture of Adding 13 Black Journalists Won’t Fix the Golden Globes

Imagine thinking you’re diverse because your 87-person exclusive club has a few people from Bangladesh, the Philippines, Japan and a smattering of other countries. That’s what the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s defense for their lack of members of color has been until very recently. You might as well just say you’re not racist because you have a “Black friend.” According to HFPA member Jenny Cooney in an interview with Australia’s Today Show earlier this month, the lack of Black journalists was “not anything we focused on.”

Following an avalanche of scrutiny regarding the complete lack of Black members since at least 2002, HFPA members have continued to put their Golden feet in their mouths. The last known Black member of the HFPA was Lowell Staine, a native of Belize who died in February 1998, and no evidence has emerged to suggest any other Black members belonged to the group before that time. Could it be that in the 78 years of the Golden Globes, only one Black journalist has ever been a member?

The HFPA’s answer to this systemic problem was to pledge to add at least 13 Black journalists by the end of the year. This arbitrary number, which would bring their total membership to a nice round 100, seemed to mirror the 13.4% reported population of Blacks or African Americans in the United States. It’s an empty, even offensive response from an organization of international journalists. This rides this racist train into the ditch of tokenism. Simply adding 13 Black people to your “club” will not solve the HFPA’s issues. If anything, it will only heighten them.

Will 13 new faces make a difference in an organization that already has made massive missteps in its long history, in not just what films it nominates, but in its journalistic practices? To suggest that would greatly devalue the fight for inclusivity. Who is on the board? How do they intend to expand in the coming years beyond this year’s additions? No one has answered those critical questions.

The call for more diversity and representation has already been muddied in the circles of conservative right-wing outlets, suggesting we are demanding an “x” amount of seats at the table because we are POC. That’s grotesquely inaccurate. We’ve only asked for an opportunity to have a seat, and the HFPA has missed the point.

Currently, the membership criteria for the HFPA do not allow this arbitrary goal to be a reality. With the goal of finding 13 Black journalists from foreign outlets who are based and living in Los Angeles, the applicant pool will be minimal. The HFPA reportedly has not had any Black applicants in the last few years. The last known formal applicant was Samantha Ofole-Prince in 2013, who was rejected in what one member called a “Jim Crow-style” takedown to disqualify her.

An entertainment journalist, who requested to stay anonymous, said she was “rudely blown off” by a French HFPA member a few years ago after she inquired about becoming a member. “We’re not accepting members right now,” he balked in response. Meanwhile, a THR journalist, who is Caucasian, was nearly offered a membership on the spot after a short conversation in the press room at the Golden Globe Awards.

Black representation has clearly not been a priority for the HFPA. If so, the problem would have been addressed long ago. The truth is, the organization doesn’t want to address it. I don’t envy the 13 Black journalists who are invited to become members later this year. Each of the current 87 members and everyone who came before them gained this exclusive status with no public or media scrutiny. Imagine how the media will comb through these journalists’ backgrounds, vetting every word they’ve ever written.

As they explore this “quota” of darker-toned media writers, how many of the HFPA members are Indigenous, Asian, Hispanic or Latino, LGBTQ or people with disabilities? We’re expecting an honorable and sincere effort from a group that won’t allow “Minari” to compete in best picture (drama) because of an antiquated English-language requirement. Still, they will freely allow “Babel” and “Inglourious Basterds” in those races despite their preponderance of foreign languages because Brad Pitt is too big a star not to be included. This organization still doesn’t see the value of a documentary feature, which is not eligible to be submitted in any category, presumably because a press conference with Ava DuVernay (“13th”) or Sarah Polley (“Stories We Tell”) isn’t as sexy as one with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie for “The Tourist.” This is a group that loves stars over substance, and worships celebrity instead of cinema.

The organization has reportedly turned down press conferences for Black-led projects like “Bridgerton,” “Girls Trip” and “Queen & Slim,” giving various excuses that left some filmmakers with no real chance at attention from the Golden Globes, which are a strong precursor to the Academy Awards and the Emmys. Black artists and Time’s Up have called for radical change within the organization, calling for accountability from NBC Universal which hosts its annual show. Over 100 publicists have sent a letter to the HFPA stating they were instructing their clients to not work with the HFPA until “lasting change to eradicate the longstanding exclusionary ethos” is addressed.

It’s infuriating how easily the HFPA could fix the problems, but transparency is something the HFPA does not seem interested in. They seem to be only concerned with what director DuVernay recalled during her press conference for Netflix’s “When They See Us” — “more came in the room when the pix were to be taken, at which time two peddled their scripts.” In fact, the grip ‘n grin ritual of having the members take pictures with stars at the end of press conferences is another antiquated ritual that should be retired.

Message for the HFPA: If you want better press, then be better press. Simple as that.

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