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Apparently we're all okay with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's shadiness as long as they let some Black people join?

By Kristen Baldwin
March 01, 2021 at 01:36 AM EST
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Why are we doing this? That's been the underlying theme of most awards shows over the past 12 months, but none more so than the 78th annual Golden Globes. Even before the recent headlines about the HFPA — its alleged corruption and shameful lack of diversity – there was a definite, "Uh, you guys sure?" vibe around the proceedings. "It's Hollywood's most glamorous night — we can wait!" quipped cohost Tina Fey in an NBC promo. Last month, Amy Poehler joked to EW about prepping to cohost the ceremony, "which the world still insists on having."

After all, the chief selling point of the Golden Globes (from a viewer standpoint, at least) has always been the show's sheer proximity. Each year, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association — a group of "around 90 international no-Black journalists" to quote tonight's monologue — lures an eclectic group of celebrities into the Beverly Hilton's 1,400-seat ballroom and crams them into tightly packed tables. Hey, it's Taylor Swift next to Warren Beatty next to Ellen DeGeneres next to Spike Lee next to Jim Carrey next to Thandie Newton next to Michael B. Jordan… and if we're lucky, they'll all get drunk!

Obviously, there was none of that tonight, though the Globes made a valiant (if not always successful) effort to deliver some awards show glamour. The ceremony was broadcast live from two coasts — Poehler on stage at the Beverly Hilton in L.A., Fey at the Rainbow Room in New York City — with "smoking-hot first responders and essential workers" seated at socially distanced tables in both venues. If you squinted a bit, Fey and Poehler almost-not-really looked like they were on stage together, though that split-screen technology didn't help much with their toothless monologue. (More on that below.) Famous people in formal wear appeared on stage to hand out trophies — scratch that, to read the nominees and announce the winners, who floated in Zoom boxes on screens behind them. Trophies, presenter Angela Bassett informed us, will be handed out at a later date, for health and safety reasons.

Fair enough. And it still hasn't lost its charm, seeing celebrities at home — on the couch in their tuxes and couture, sometimes sharing the frame with kids and friends and pets. (Shout-out to Jodie Foster's bow-tie-wearing pooch, Ziggy!) The cut-to-commercial shots of A-listers table-hopping to chat with other A-listers were replaced by brief eavesdropping moments of nominees on their separate Zoom screens, making small talk as they waited for their category's turn. ("Hi, Mr. Pacino!" called Best Actor in a Drama contender Bob Odenkirk from his top screen to the Hunters star, floating on a rectangle below. "Very good to meet you on a screen… again.") Even celebrities can have glitchy audio on Zoom, as Daniel Kaluuya — a winner for Judas and the Black Messiah — discovered.

There was stilted banter, there were hit-and-miss bits. Tracy Morgan created a new word when announcing the Best Animated Movie win for Soul. But… why are we doing this? "It's great to be Black at the Golden Globes — back at the Golden Globes," joked presenter Sterling K. Brown. The crack was a reference to some of those aforementioned headlines about the Hollywood Foreign Press Association: A recent Los Angeles Times report revealed that the group currently has no Black journalists as members. That's galling on its face, of course. It also makes snubs for Black-led projects like I May Destroy You all the more infuriating.

Still, the Times reports weren't just about the HFPA's diversity, or lack thereof. A Feb. 21 article titled "Golden Globes voters in tumult: Members accuse Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. of self-dealing, ethical lapses" provided a detailed and disconcerting look at the group's financial activity. For example, the Times says NBC paid the HFPA $27.4 million last fiscal year, and the HFPA in turn paid its own members — who only need to publish six articles a year to meet requirements — nearly $2 million for various services. "The nonprofit HFPA regularly issues substantial payments to its own members in ways that some experts say could run afoul of Internal Revenue Service guidelines," the article read. (An HFPA representative told the Times that "None of these allegations has ever been proven in court or in any investigation.")

The entertainment industry has long recognized the HFPA's reputation as a group that loves to be wined and dined. But are we still pretending it's okay that Emily in Paris just happened to get a nomination after Paramount Network reportedly flew 30 HFPA members to France for a set visit and two-night stay in a luxury hotel?

Based on what we saw tonight, it seems the answer is yes. There was no mention of scandal or financial shenanigans — instead, the focus was on making performative amends for the HFPA's appalling lack of diversity. Even under the best of circumstances, it would have been hard for Fey and Poehler to top their Globes monologues of years past. ("When it comes to torture, I trust the lady who spent three years married to James Cameron.") It seemed inevitable that the hosts would take a few searing, pointed shots at their beleaguered bosses. Instead, they joked that the HFPA includes cats, ghosts, and maybe a sausage with a face drawn on it — but the cuts didn't go much deeper. Poehler waved off the Globes' tendency to make head-scratching nominations with this: "A lot of flashy garbage got nominated, but that happens, okay? That's their thing."

And when it came time for Fey to chide the HFPA for its lack of diversity, the message felt uncharacteristically tame: "Look, we all know that awards shows are stupid… The point is, even with stupid things, inclusivity is important. And there are no Black members of the Hollywood Foreign Press. I realize, HFPA, maybe you didn't get the memo because your workplace is the back booth of a French McDonald's, but you've gotta change that. So here's to changing that."  

Of course, it isn't Fey or Poehler's job to fix the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. As people much smarter than myself have already pointed out, it's going to take a concerted display of backbone from studios and/or NBC to motivate the HFPA to make any substantive changes to their membership and operational ethics. That seems highly unlikely, especially after tonight's display. The HFPA slapped itself on the wrist and publicly pledged to create what president Ali Sar called "an environment where a diverse membership is the norm." That's a start. But making the membership more diverse without addressing the larger problems at hand feels cosmetic at best — cynical at worst. Grade: B-

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