The Golden Globes don't have to be terrible
When attempting to learn anything at all about the Hollywood Foreign Press Association — the small, exclusive group that votes on the Golden Globes — the word you encounter over and over again is shadowy. As in, "who exactly makes up this shadowy group, and where do they hail from?" or "The Hollywood Foreign Press Association ... tends to be a sort of shadowy, mysterious bunch."
Others, though, dispense with the Eyes Wide Shut imagery altogether to cut right to the chase. "The Hollywood Foreign Press are all very, very racist," Golden Globes host Ricky Gervais put it bluntly during the ceremony last year.
Critics of the organization have complained about the illegitimacy of the Globes for decades, and despite such an embarrassing public call-out on their own stage, the HFPA has gotten no less shadowy and no less (apparently) racist. The exposés and jokes have had little effect. But if the Hollywood Foreign Press Association can't be shamed into radical reform, maybe they can be convinced it's in their immediate self-interest.
This year's slate of Golden Globes nominees was particularly dismal. None of the four major Black-led ensemble films — Da 5 Bloods, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, One Night in Miami, and Judas and the Black Messiah — were nominated for the night's top prize, while the total omission of nods for HBO's I May Destroy You, which features a predominately Black British cast, sparked backlash from even the writer of its would-be competitor. It's not an anomaly, either; in 2019, "out of 40 acting slots, only three nonwhite performers — and zero women of color — were nominated" for the Golden Globe, the Los Angeles Times reports. Though 2020 marks an important step forward with the nomination of three female directors, the ceremony is historically notorious for giving women short shrift. Other 2020 nominations further rub salt in the wound: Sia's widely-reviled Music somehow made the cut, while the HFPA controversially relegated Minari to the "foreign language" category, preventing it from competing for Best Picture despite being an American immigrant story.
Among people who are professionally required to think about the Golden Globes, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has long been considered "a wackadoodle consortium of journalists who have been around long enough to share fond memories of when the first 'talkies' began playing," "a collection of 90 self-selected ludicrous hangers-on, who threw an annual banquet that was traditionally a second-hand Fellini-inspired horror show of barely plausible repute," and — here's that word again — "a shadowy cabal who seem to react to press campaigns as much as actual quality." As if proving that last point, a damning report published over the weekend in the Los Angeles Times detailed how the HFPA is "rife with ethical conflicts, with members accepting 'thousands of dollars in emoluments' from ... studios, networks, and celebrities they conferred trophies upon, all of it hidden behind a 'code of silence.'"
Though the report ought to be the nail in the Globes' coffin, it's unlikely to be. The HFPA's purchasable favoritism has been an open secret for years, and it's not made the organization any less lucrative. "Last fiscal year, the organization pulled in $27.4 million from [NBC]," the Times goes on to say, noting that "the HFPA had just over $50 million in cash on hand, internal financial documents show." Due to the Globes' ability to potentially influence Oscar voters, as well as its star-studded NBC broadcast, people watch the ceremony in spite of it being a bit of a farce. But imagine what it could be if it wasn't.
The place to start would be with reforming the organization's questionable voting body. With only 87 members, the HFPA's exclusivity isn't an asset; it makes the group ripe for targeting by studios that are eager for awards clout, and leads to the Globe's current reputation of being corruptible and shady (for good reason: Emily in Paris' creators reportedly flew HFPA voters to France, where they were treated "like kings and queens"; later, the show earned several "shocking" nominations in prestigious categories). Though those already within the HFPA's ranks enjoy lavish perks that they're not likely eager to give up, the members, when they are identified, are a mishmash of no-name randos, having included over the years a car salesman, a Polish socialite, a former bodybuilder, and, according to The New York Times, "a native Latvian who wrote ... a National Enquirer article titled 'Space Alien Baby Found Alive, Say Russians.'" Meanwhile, many real foreign correspondants have been turned down when they've tried to apply. Inexcusably, the group has no Black members.
But let's say the HFPA opens their doors and begins letting more people join (even encouraging new members into the fold by lifting the archaic requirement that its members live in Southern California, while still keeping the group's unique hallmark of representing expats who write about film in the United States for foreign publications). A larger and more diverse voting body would reestablish the awards as credible, and cut down on the increasing derision of the organization in the mainstream press — not to mention their own hosts. Further, it would give fans a reason to watch the ceremony beyond waiting for what a drunk celebrity might say (which, let's be honest, is the primary reason to bother turning on the show now). A more legitimate voting body and process would give the Golden Globes more clout, and raise the stakes of the ceremony.
It's hard to see the Oscars as being dethroned as the most watched awards show of the season anytime soon. The reputation has long been that the Globes are the fun one, while the Academy Awards are more self-serious and respectable. The Globes, though, have a chance to be both fun and legitimate; all they need to do is clean up their act.
If one thing is true, it's that change comes slowly to Hollywood. Especially when the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association have such a cushy gig, it seems even less likely that the push for change will come internally (the organization has already been promising it'll get better for years and years). Some have argued understandably as a result that we should just ignore the Golden Globes all together.
The threat of irrelevancy hasn't seemed to worry the Globes yet, though. The bigger question in my mind is if the HFPA is truly willing to leave all the money and power that they could otherwise have a chance at on the table. Maybe it's true what they say, and the Golden Globes are a cult beyond reform. But my challenge to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is this: You won't know until you actually try.