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Australian HFPA member says they "didn't really consider" the lack of Black members "a problem" because the group was filled with diversity from other places.

By Joey Nolfi
March 03, 2021 at 11:30 AM EST
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A source at the Motion Picture Association has responded to a Hollywood Foreign Press Association member's claims about its ties to the Golden Globes group's ongoing controversy concerning a lack of Black journalists among its ranks.

The issue in question arose when Australian HFPA member Jenny Cooney appeared on Monday's episode of Today Show Australia to address the ongoing controversy regarding the recent revelation that there are zero Black members among the group of 87 Los Angeles-based journalists, and suggested that the groundwork for their membership — which votes to bestow the Golden Globes each year — is laid by the MPA.

"The MPA did not have a Black member in their international directory at all, not to throw them under the bus, but, that was the pool we were choosing from," she said, claiming that HFPA members have to be "vetted" by the MPA before joining. "And we've now realized we can't rely on the studios, we can't rely on anybody else."

However, an MPA source told EW the directory includes several Black members, but that the HFPA's usage of their directory is at the HFPA's discretion, and that "the MPA is not involved in any way with the HFPA membership decisions beyond giving them access to the directory."

The directory in question, the source explains, is a roughly 200-strong list of journalists (many of whom are HFPA members) often used by studios and publicists when setting promotional screenings and other events, and is not thoroughly "vetted," as Cooney implied, and that the registration process is akin to how any journalist would apply for credentials at a film festival. EW has also confirmed that race and ethnicity are not required to be disclosed as part of the application process.

Cooney added that she's "surrounded by people of all colors in the HFPA," and that she felt "diversity was not about skin color but nationality and where people came from.... I didn't understand that we had to go out and find a Black person. It sounded very strange to me. We always welcomed everybody. If somebody [Black] had applied, we would've welcomed them with open arms."

Shortly after the Today Show Australia interview, Los Angeles Times reporter Josh Rottenberg tweeted that a Black journalist did apply to join the HFPA in 2013, but was denied.

Representatives for the HFPA didn't immediately respond to EW's request for comment on Cooney's interview, the MPA source's response, or Rottenberg's tweet.

When asked why the HFPA — which does include members from the Philippines, North Africa, Bangladesh, India, Japan, and more — didn't address the lack of Black members prior to a recent Los Angeles Times investigation that publicly exposed the information, Cooney said they've "always considered [themselves] such a culturally diverse group," with an estimated 35 percent of its members being from non-European countries. Part of the HFPA's membership requirements stipulate that its journalist voters must write for foreign publications, but be based in Southern California.

"The fact that there was not a Black member was not really anything we focused on because we were accepting and welcoming everybody from around the world that was based in L.A. that wrote from foreign publications," Cooney continued. "That was just our criteria. The fact that there was no Black member, we didn't really consider a problem. Now, of course, we realize we should've been much more proactive about really going out of our way to recruit and work with the media, the journalists, and the foreign press everywhere. That's what we're committed to doing now that we've really understood the problem itself."

She said the HFPA is having "dialogue" with Black journalist organizations as well as the Time's Up movement to address its diversity issues, and promised that there will be more information regarding their diversity initiatives announced soon.

In a tweet, Time's Up stated that it is "not in dialogue with the HFPA" and "adding a few Black members will not fix their many systemic issues."

Cooney wrapped the interview by looking ahead, speculating that, by this time next year, she hoped to see "three or four" Black members in the HFPA, as the group is actively "recruiting new people" in the wake of the "embarrassing and alarming" public revelation this year.

Following the Los Angeles Times report, director Ava DuVernay, One Night in Miami helmer (and 2021 Golden Globe nominee) Regina King, and Kerry Washington addressed the issue on social media, as did Golden Globes ceremony hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler during their set at Sunday night's broadcast (which registered all-time low viewership ratings for the HFPA).

The HFPA also brought three of its members to the Golden Globes stage to speak on the controversy during the telecast.

"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.

India's Meher Tatna added: "We must also ensure everyone from all underrepresented communities gets a seat at our table, and we're going to make that happen."

Still, Golden Globe statuettes were awarded to many diverse contenders during the broadcast, including The United States vs. Billie Holiday star Andra Day, who pulled off a shocking upset for Best Actress — Drama (and became the category's first Black winner in 35 years). Nomadland director Chloé Zhao further made history as the first Asian woman to win Best Director, and her movie — starring Frances McDormand — became the first Best Picture — Drama winner to be directed by a woman in Globes history.

Watch Cooney's appearance on Today Australia above, and keep up with our comprehensive Golden Globes coverage here.

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