EW looks back as the HFPA grapples with ongoing allegations of racial insensitivity.

By Joey Nolfi
April 21, 2021 at 12:42 PM EDT
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For decades, the Golden Globes have, judging by industry pushback, maintained anything but a golden profile.

A perennial awards season bridesmaid to the Oscars' bride, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's dozens-strong collective of journalists has long drawn criticism from the movie industry. Dating as far back as the 1950s, many have criticized the group's voting tactics and celebrity fawning, but recent scandals over a lack of Black writers among its voting ranks has reportedly sent the HFPA into crisis mode as they attempt to diversify their base and rebuild their image.

Below, EW chronicles several past controversies that have plagued the HFPA over the years, from Pia Zadora's questionable acting victory to 60-year-old allegations that publicity firms schmoozed their way into the Golden Globes' winners circle.

Pia Zadora and Johnny Depp

1958: HFPA president Henry Gris resigns amid claims of "fixed" voting

Ex-HFPA president Henry Gris reportedly resigned from the organization's board, citing concerns that "certain awards are being given more or less as favors," he told Variety in a March 1958 article.

Fred Porges, the association's head at the time, stressed that all awards were handed out "in accordance with the rules and regulations," though Gris took issue with a single publicity firm's clients winning the majority of that year's Golden Globe awards. He alleged to the publication that, while some winners were voted on by the entire association's membership, others were determined by the board alone.

1982: New Star of the Year winner Pia Zadora draws industry ire

Claims of indirect bribery again resurfaced as actress Pia Zadora attempted to establish herself as a Hollywood star in the poorly received 1981 crime drama Butterfly. After the New York Times wrote that "Miss Zadora is not a convincing actress," called her "spectacularly inept," and likened her emoting skills to "Brigitte Bardot who's been recycled through a kitchen compactor," the performer received both the Razzie Award for Worst New Star and the 1982 Golden Globe for New Star of the Year — winning the latter over Body Heat's Kathleen Turner and Elizabeth McGovern for Ragtime.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Meshulam Riklis, a wealthy businessman and Zadora's husband at the time, flew members of the HFPA to Las Vegas for a leisure trip a few weeks prior to voting, which led many to suspect that Zadora's Golden Globe victory was transactional. As a result, subsequent years saw many in the industry pushing for reform — including the alleged signing of waivers indicating that voting members "had not received gifts or perks from the studios," according to the L.A. Times.

BURLESQUE
Cher and Christina Aguilera in 'Burlesque'
| Credit: STEPHEN VAUGHAN/Screen Gems

2010: Burlesque and The Tourist shock with Best Picture nominations amid bribery accusations

Though the movie has since become a cult favorite, the critically derided Cher-Christina Aguilera musical Burlesque competed for Best Picture at the 2011 ceremony, and rumors swirled that voters had been wooed with trips to Las Vegas and a private concert. The industry was similarly shocked when the Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp flop The Tourist scored three nods — including one for Best Picture — at the same ceremony.

"Sometimes actors will even flirt with members; whatever it takes to ingratiate themselves," an HFPA insider told the New York Post in a 2015 investigation. "Even though everyone in the industry knows that the awards lack any real credibility, they still generate huge publicity for their movies. And it's a lot easier to curry favor with a few dozen HFPA members than it is to suck up to the Academy."

2011: Former Golden Globes publicist sues the HFPA over "payola" allegations

Three days before the 2011 Golden Globes, former HFPA publicist Michael Russell sued for $2 million, alleging that the group's members "abuse their positions and engage in unethical and potentially unlawful deals and arrangements which amount to a 'payola' scheme," according to CBS News.

Before the suit was settled in 2013, the show's publicity representative, Ken Sunshine, told the publication that the action "is no more than the case of a disgruntled former consulting firm, whose contract was not renewed, attempting to take advantage once again of the Globes' international stage for their own gain."

2018: Brendan Fraser says former HFPA president sexually assaulted him

In a 2018 interview, Fraser told GQ that former HFPA president Philip Berk (more on him later) assaulted him by grabbing his buttocks (a moment that was previously reported in a 2005 New York Times article).

"His left hand reaches around, grabs my ass cheek, and one of his fingers touches me in the taint. And he starts moving it around," Fraser said of the incident, which allegedly took place at a 2003 HFPA luncheon at the Beverly Hills Hotel. "I felt ill. I felt like a little kid. I felt like there was a ball in my throat. I thought I was going to cry." (In an email to GQ, Berk called Fraser's version of events "a total fabrication.")

LITTLE WOMEN
Writer-director Greta Gerwig and Meryl Streep on the set of 'Little Women'
| Credit: Wilson Webb/Columbia Pictures

2019: HFPA draws criticism for nominating zero women in the Best Director category

2019 was a landmark year for women directors, following the smash box office (and critical) success of films like Lorene Scafaria's Hustlers and Greta Gerwig's Little Women. Though both films didn't generate enough traction on the Oscar precursor circuit to qualify their absence at the Golden Globes as a statistical snub, many in the industry still spoke out against the Globes for not recognizing the work of women behind the camera in Hollywood.

"I think we were totally shocked," Little Women actress Florence Pugh said in a Today show interview. Saoirse Ronan, Pugh's costar, added: "She has made one of the best movies of the year. It's vital for something like this to happen, because it reminds us of how far obviously we still need to go."

2021: Hollywood blasts HFPA for lack of diversity — including no Black members — among its voting ranks

After a Los Angeles Times exposé presented a searing report that revealed there are no Black journalists among the HFPA's 87-strong membership of journalists, Hollywood figures like Ava DuVernay and Shonda Rhimes spoke out about the group's racial makeup and treatment of their projects. During the 2021 telecast, the Globes later trotted out three of its members onstage to publicly stress that the group will do more to welcome Black voices into its voting base.

"Tonight, while we celebrate the work of artists from around the globe, we recognize that we have our own work to do. Just like in film and televison, Black representation is vital. We must have Black journalists in our organization," said Helen Hoehne, an HFPA member from Germany. Added India's Meher Tatna: "We must also ensure everyone from all underrepresented communities gets a seat at our table, and we're going to make that happen."

2021: Philip Berk expelled from HFPA after allegedly sending an email calling Black Lives Matter a "racist hate movement"

Following an alleged email that called the Black Lives Matter initiative a "racist hate movement," the 88-year-old Berk was reportedly expelled from the HFPA. In addition to outlining several email responses from HFPA members (as detailed by the Los Angeles Times), PEOPLE published a statement from the group's board that read: "Effective immediately, Phil Berk is no longer a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association."

Now, in the wake of current scandals, the HFPA is reportedly facing several internal shakeups, including a potentially looming break with PR firm Sunshine Sachs. Over 100 PR agencies banded together to demand "profound and lasting change." (Publicity representatives for the HFPA did not immediately respond to EW's request for comment).

Check out more from EW's The Awardist, featuring exclusive interviews, analysis, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's best films.

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