Like most reckonings, the downfall of the Golden Globe Awards was a long time coming, even if it appeared to happen suddenly.
The Globes has always been hyped as “Hollywood’s favorite party,” a boozy free-for-all prologue to the Oscars where viewers could join the tables of the biggest stars in the world by way of NBC’s massively successful telecast. Then on Monday came a staggering rebuke—NBC announced it would not broadcast next year’s ceremony following a cascade of diversity failures, racism allegations, professionalism complaints, and public embarrassments surrounding the group that votes on the awards, the 86-member Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
The HFPA had survived criticisms and doubts about its legitimacy before. But this time, the actors themselves led the attack—vowing to boycott the Globes over what they considered to be lackluster plans for reform and improvement. That made NBC’s choice obvious, according to a source familiar with the network’s decision: “The talent wasn’t going to participate. There’s no show if there’s no talent.”
A series of Vanity Fair interviews with high-level publicists, awards consultants, and various network and studio executives revealed how decades of pent-up anger and discomfort have compounded the woes of the Golden Globes, leading to even broader calls for restructuring and changes to toxic behavior within the group before it starts handing out trophies again.
The awards ceremony itself may have been billed as a playful and laid-back affair. But the gauntlet of glad-handing and servility that talent felt they had to undertake to get recognition from the voters created enduring resentment toward the HFPA, according to several talent representatives and awards consultants. The complaints started with a lack of Black voters in the group, but now it includes allegations of other troubling behavior.
On Saturday, Scarlett Johansson released a statement calling for actors to “step back” from the Golden Globes, saying that over the years she had faced “sexist questions and remarks by certain HFPA members that bordered on sexual harassment.”
In addition to verbal remarks, HFPA members have also allegedly gotten physically inappropriate with actors. (Brendan Fraser has said that he was groped in 2003 by Philip Berk, a former president of the group; Berk denied this, telling GQ that he pinched Fraser as a joke.) One executive who has dealt extensively with the HFPA told Vanity Fair: “Through the years, there were things like, ‘Can you read this script?’ Or an inappropriate comment. Those kind of things, people just kinda put up with.” But not anymore.
The HFPA was partially shielded from consequence because it had the power to add momentum to an Academy Awards run, or to trip up a campaign. No one wanted to cross them. Now, their power is diminished—and some reps don’t just want the HFPA to diversify by adding new members, but also expect them to remove members who have acted poorly or don’t currently work for legitimate overseas outlets.
“This is decades of bad behavior,” said one publicist with a roster of A-listers and Oscar winners. “Most people want the show to continue. One thing that has been misunderstood is ‘the publicists are ganging up on the Golden Globes.’ We don’t want them to be canceled; we want them to remake. We want the Golden Globes, but we want them to be with real journalists who actually write for publications and don’t insult and degrade our clients.”
Controversy has long mired the Globes and the HFPA, whose members have been mocked repeatedly by hosts of their own show for having trashy taste and dubious credibility. Their press conferences are renowned for awkward questions that spark arguments with each other. They sometimes come off more like pushy fans than journalists, asking for photos and autographs and uncomfortable favors.
A top talent rep describes how publicists prepare clients who are new to the HFPA: “This is what we tell all of them: ‘You won’t believe this, but the Golden Globes are decided by, like, 80 weirdos. They’re going to fight with each other and say weird things. Just pretend they’re a crazy aunt or uncle. Patronize them, and don’t worry—none of these interviews get seen anyway.’”
Many other publicists echoed similar remarks. They all say they are tired of giving that awkward speech to their actors and filmmakers. Their goal in speaking out now is to force the Globes organization to become more respectable. To them this is an intervention.
This year, a series of new bombshells hit the Globes, and each seemed to set off another. One week before the most recent Globes ceremony, another Los Angeles Times article reported that the HFPA did not have a single Black member. The group’s leadership vowed to make changes, but with the public’s emotions still raw over the murder of George Floyd, the police shooting of Breonna Taylor, and the summer’s #BlackLivesMatter uprisings, such promises were met with skepticism at best.
Then it got worse. At the Oscars, HFPA member Margaret Gardiner asked supporting actor winner Daniel Kaluuya what it was like to work with director Regina King. Kaluuya, who looked taken aback, asked her to repeat the question. (His movie, Judas and the Black Messiah, was directed by Shaka King, while Regina King directed fellow supporting actor nominee Leslie Odom Jr. in One Night in Miami.) Gardiner insisted she didn’t confuse the actors, but the HFPA’s lack of any Black members made it especially cringeworthy that one of them had seemingly confused Black performers and directors.