When Hollywood stars take the stage at next Sunday’s virtual 78th Golden Globe Awards ceremony to give their acceptance speeches, they will almost certainly thank the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., the small community of international journalists who hand out the coveted trophies.
But who are the members of this closed-off, allegedly influential group? Anyone unfamiliar with the HFPA’s long and sometimes scandal-ridden past, which includes recent accusations of self-dealing and ethical lapses outlined in a new Times report, may be surprised by the answers.
Among the 87 existing members of the Hollywood, Foreign Press Association are veteran film reporters for major publications including Silvia Bizio, a contributor to Italy’s La Repubblica; Rocio Ayuso, a correspondent for Spain’s El Pas; and others who contribute sporadically to more obscure overseas outlets.
A complaint has been brought by Rosa Gamazo, a Spanish entertainment journalist, against the Hollywood International Press Association. (Los Angeles Times/Christina House)
“A lot of them work with outlets I’ve never heard of,” said a longtime publicist who worked for a major studio until recently but declined to be identified because they weren’t allowed to discuss their clients’ business. “We provide them with incredible access. Because of who they are, we are compelled to do so.”
The idea that many members aren’t professional journalists is “outdated and unjust,” according to an HFPA spokesperson, who added that the organisation has “a rigorous admissions and reaccreditation process” and that its members “write for some of the world’s most prestigious publications.”
Although many members choose to maintain a low profile, some are more outspoken. Members’ names and biographies aren’t mentioned on the HFPA’s website, but according to documents reviewed by The New York Times, among those in the group are Chinese-born actress Lisa Lu, who played the grandmother in the 2018 hit film “Crazy Rich Asians,” former beauty queen Margaret Gardiner, who was the first South African to win Miss Universe in 1978, and Indian-born Noel de Souza, who along with Margaret Gardiner was the first South African to win the Miss Universe title in
Yola Czaderska-Hayek, a wealthy socialite whose love of fur coats and diamonds has drawn comparisons to Joan Collins and who calls herself “the First Polish Lady of Hollywood” on her Facebook page, is one of the group’s members.
Alexander Nevsky, for example, is a Russian bodybuilder-turned-actor and filmmaker who has made and starred in a variety of low-budget action films, including “Maximum Impact” and “Showdown in Manila.” (“I believe I am the only producer who can lift 100-pound dumbbells and the only bodybuilder who votes for @goldenglobes and creates films,” Nevsky tweeted in 2018, followed by a video of himself working out in the gym.)
Meher Tatna, a former president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, is pictured on the left. At a 2017 Golden Globes nomination event in Beverly Hills, she is joined by actors Kristen Bell, Alfre Woodard, Sharon Stone, and Garrett Hedlund. (Getty Images/Michael Kovac)
Within the HFPA, geography is a more complex term, with representatives reflecting a constantly changing map of regions rather than just countries of origin.
According to a list of active members as of 2019, Meher Tatna, a former president from India, represented Singapore, and Theo Kingma, another former president from the Netherlands, represented Australia, Cuba, and his home country at one time.
Brent Simon, Vera Anderson, and Scott Orlin, three Americans, have represented China, Mexico, and Germany, respectively, in the organisation. A fourth, Jack Tewksbury, represented Argentina until his death last year at the age of 94.
The HFPA does not “regulate where members work or limit their ability to make a living,” according to a spokesperson for the organisation.
Although the HFPA has a diverse membership, there are no Black members, a fact the organisation is aware of and “committed to addressing,” according to a spokesperson.
The organisation attracted widespread criticism for not having any of this year’s Black-led potential Oscar best picture candidates, such as “Da 5 Bloods,” “Judas and the Black Messiah,” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” among its finalists for the group’s top film award.
When asked about the criticisms, a spokeswoman for the organisation said, “We do not have influence over individual votes of our members,” adding, “We aim to create cultural awareness through film and television and appreciate how the power of imaginative storytelling can inform people around the world on issues of race, representation, and orientation.”
Faced with similar criticism in the aftermath of the #OscarsSoWhite debacle, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has taken major strides in recent years to diversify its membership, delivering on a 2016 promise to double the number of women and people of colour in its ranks.
The elderly make up a sizable portion of the membership. One member in their 90s is deaf and legally blind, according to an antitrust lawsuit brought last year by Norwegian journalist Kjersti Flaa against the HFPA. (A federal judge dismissed Flaa’s case in November, but an amended motion is still pending.)
“The HFPA supports and recognises its senior members, who have contributed so much to the association and to entertainment journalism over the years,” said a spokesperson for the organisation.
Members of the organisation have been described as falling asleep during screenings, hurling insults at one another during news conferences, and regularly engaging in personal feuds by those who have interacted with them. The group’s meetings are often contentious, according to the members. “In an organisation composed of journalists, there are a lot of strong views and spirited discussions,” the HFPA spokesperson said when asked about the group’s infamous fractiousness.
Some HFPA members have sought outside interests and searched for other ways to supplement their income as the demand for their journalism has dried up.
Erkki Kanto, a Finnish participant, has turned his obsession with the ancient Chinese art of face-reading, known as Mian Xiang, into two books and a DVD titled “Your Face Tells Everything.”
Some people have taken gifts from studios and celebrities and sold them online to make extra money, according to a former studio publicist.
Others have padded their salaries in ways that have sparked criticism from their peers. Following an internal sting operation in 2017, Bangladeshi participant Munawar Hosain was found to have scalped his Globes tickets for $39,000 and was barred from getting tickets to the event for the next two years, according to a storey in The Wrap. (Hosain denied any wrongdoing in an email to The New York Times, claiming he gave the tickets to a friend of a friend who then tried to sell them.)
Oscar Isaac, left, and Munawar Hosain, a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, arrive at the 2016 Golden Globes. (NBC/Alberto Rodriguez)
According to an HFPA spokesperson, the organisation took action after the event to raise the fines for members selling tickets and works with “outside lawyers and private investigators on a daily basis to find any evidence of ticket sales.” However, according to several sources, the tradition of scalping tickets is still going on. According to The New York Times, a participant offered to sell them tickets to last year’s Globes for $10,000, plus $2,000 for after-party tickets.
The HFPA has continuously retained its limited size throughout its existence. The community accepted three new members in October, but the net benefit was negligible since two members died in the same year.
The HFPA has long said that it keeps its membership low to better handle its activities and press conferences. Former President Philip Berk, on the other hand, admitted in his 2014 memoir that “our territorial protectionism was still taken to the extreme.”
Berk’s views do not reflect those of the HFPA, which “welcomes any and all new members who share the goal of introducing cultural understanding through film and television,” according to a spokesperson.
Both rejected candidates and existing members say that well-credentialed international journalists have been turned away from the party because they would infringe on members’ professional turf.
One member said, “A lot of members aren’t professional journalists.” “We admit people who aren’t true journalists because they pose no danger to anyone.”
Philip Berk, former president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and actress Milla Jovovich attend a party at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in 2011.(FilmMagic/Jeff Kravitz)
Foreign entertainment journalists who have attempted to join the HFPA, in some cases several times, have identified concerted attempts by current members to obstruct potential competitors, subjecting them to “character assassination attacks and dirty smear campaign[s],” according to Flaa’s suit. Flaa’s arguments are “entirely baseless,” according to the HFPA, which acknowledges that it has “taken disciplinary steps for certain activities” on occasion.
Rosa Gamazo, a Spanish journalist who has joined Flaa’s suit, said she tried to join the party many times in recent years.
Gamazo told The New York Times, “There was this [member] — we got along very well, and she was trying to help me find a sponsor.” “The other members cautioned her, saying, ‘Do not speak to ordinary journalists.’ They’re not like us. ‘You must stay with the party.’
Claudine Mulard was three times rejected from the organisation while serving as the Hollywood correspondent for the leading French newspaper Le Monde in the 1990s.
Mulard said, “I was really qualified and actively working.” “I was the only international member of the Television Critics Association at the time. That didn’t matter, though. After a while, I simply stopped insisting. I felt they were a bunch of nonsense.”
I’m not sure why journalists who aren’t affiliated with the company are seen as threats.”
JOURNALIST FROM DANISH MADSEN, SARA GERLACH
According to her declaration in Flaa’s complaint, British journalist Gillian Pringle and another foreign journalist attempted to “end the enormous competitive disadvantage non-HFPA members face” by forming a new foreign press association open to all entertainment reporters two years ago.
Pringle, on the other hand, claims she was threatened by the HFPA that “any publicist who allowed us access to interview talent would face retaliation from the HFPA, so no publicist would.”
“I don’t understand why journalists outside the organisation are regarded as threats,” said Sara Gerlach Madsen, a Danish journalist who has been unemployed since the epidemic started and is struggling to survive in Los Angeles as a single mother. “Everyone, from the studios to the publicists, says, ‘This is how it is.’”
Longtime Austrian entertainment journalist Evie Sullivan, who was twice rejected by the HFPA, said in a declaration to Flaa’s suit that she was subjected to intimidation and character assassination by a member of the organisation who accused her of attempting to encroach on the HFPA’s turf. Sullivan subsequently quit journalism to seek a new profession as a hypnotherapist.
Sullivan told The New York Times, “Today, I’d rather get my toenails removed than join the organization.” “However, it’s about justice and supporting my former colleagues who, like me, have suffered as a result of this group’s actions.”