The HFPA Did Us Dirty — Why The Golden Globes Diversity Statements Fell Short

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
There’s a gif of the late Chadwick Boseman from the 2019 Oscars I think about a lot. It’s from the moment Green Book wins Best Picture. As the mostly-white cast and crew are shuffling on stage to accept their award for the critically-maligned, watered-down film about race relations in America as told through the lens of a white man, Boseman turns to shoot his friend and Black Panther co-star Michael B. Jordan a knowing glance. The look is quick — a small shared moment between friends  — but it is also the universal Fed Up Black Person face. And it’s the same look that came to mind when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) listlessly tried to convince the world during its broadcast of the 2021 Golden Globe Awards that it was committed to “a more inclusive future.”
We all knew the Hollywood Foreign Press Association was going to address the controversy surrounding its membership, namely the LA Times revelation that the almost 90-person organisation doesn’t include a single Black journalist. We knew this because, well, they had to do something and because during the official NBC pre-show, hosts Susan Kelechi Watson and Jane Lynch repeatedly told us it was happening as if they were instructed to hype up the in-show statement like it was a Lady Gaga/ Bradley Cooper performance of “Shallow” instead of shallow attempt at righting years of wrongs against Black creators and critics. Shortly after the show started, two white women (Tina Fey and Amy Poehler) made a bunch of lacklustre jokes about the HFPA’s lack of Black representation and once again teased that it would be addressed during the show. And then, after all that hype, the live HFPA statement happened. It was cold, underwhelming, and infuriatingly vague. 
Around the one-hour mark of the show, three members of the HFPA, including the strategically-placed Meher Tatina from India (she’s a past HFPA president and current board chair), came together for a joint address. “We must also ensure everyone, from all representative communities, gets a seat at our table, and we’re going to make that happen,” she said without ever explaining how, exactly, they will “make that happen.” 
Helen Hoehne, the HFPA vice president from Germany, delivered what would end up being the only indication of what will actually change in their operation: “As we celebrate the work of artists from around the globe, we recognise we have our own work to do,” she said. “Just like in film and television, Black representation is vital. We must have Black journalists in our organisation.” So bold, and so nice of the HFPA to figure out in 2021 that it needs to include a single Black person. 

It’s easy to say that people — especially Black people — should “stop caring” about award shows, but to do that would be to ignore the systemic barriers the Golden Globes reinforces. 

To wrap up the minute-long statement, HFPA president, Turkey’s Ali Sar took us home with the most nothing sentiment of all the nothingness, claiming that their new direction “means creating an environment where diverse membership is the norm, not the exception. Thank you, and we look forward to a more inclusive future.” This is where I moved past fed up to fucking frustrated. Twitter got its jokes off about the statement — understandably — but aside from being laughably bad, this flimsy , callous attempt at brushing past 77 years of racism within their association with a few key words is chilling, dangerous, and all-too-familiar. 
We’ve seen these “we look forward to a more inclusive future” stock promises from white-run companies over the past year after the killing of George Floyd by police finally seemed to flip a “start listening to Black people” switch in corporate America. The problem is that the lights only go on after intense public scrutiny and pressure, after irreparable damage has been done in workplaces, and after Black people are murdered. The onus is still falling on the oppressed group to speak up and call out  those in power before they claim to answer the call to action. Then that “action” amounts to a whole lot of hollow statements, ambiguous gestures, and unresolved issues.
The HFPA didn’t specifically name what they did wrong or apologise. They didn’t mention the accusations that they let studios wine and dine them in exchange for nominations (members were reportedly flown to Paris to visit the set of Emily In Paris which may explain those inexplicable nods). There was no accountability. They didn’t tell us how many Black members they are committed to including or at what levels of their organisation they will be placed. They didn’t give us a timeline for these new additions. The HFPA didn’t say how they would make sure the space these token Black hires are entering is safe for them or what structural changes will follow to ensure long term. Following the broadcast, Time’s Up CEO Tina Tchen wrote in a letter to the HFPA leaders that their statements “indicate a fundamental lack of understanding of the depth of the problems at hand," and that their “stated version of change is cosmetic." She’s right. The statement felt like a teacher had forced the HFPA to write “Will Do Diversity” over and over in chalk on a board. They did it because they knew they had to. And they didn’t even do the bare minimum. 

The statement felt like a teacher had forced the HFPA to write “Will Do Diversity” over and over in chalk on a board. They did it because they knew they had to.

The bare minimum would have been what Jane Fonda is getting praised for. Fonda was awarded the  Cecil B. DeMille Award and in her speech, she was more specific about whose voices have been  overlooked, why it is  wrong, and what needs to be done. She chose to make her points by emphasising the importance of storytelling. “There’s a story we’ve been really afraid to see and hear about ourselves and this industry. The story about which voices we respect and elevate and which we tune out,” she said. She shouted out specific Black works that were either largely or completely ignored by the HFPA, like I May Destroy You, Judas and the Black Messiah, Small Acts, US vs. Billie Holiday, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and One Night in Miami. The list could have gone on. 
I’m all for Fonda getting her flowers. She deserves them. But I’m not about giving cookies to white people for doing what they should be doing when it comes to the fight for inclusion in Hollywood. Here’s how Fonda ended her speech: “Let’s all of us — including all the groups that decide who gets hired and what gets made and who wins awards — let’s all of us make an effort to expand that tent so that everyone rises and everyone’s story has a chance to be seen and heard… After all, art has always been not just in step with history, but has led the way. So let’s be leaders, OK?” She didn’t say anything controversial. It’s not even as confrontational against systems of power that Jane has been over the course of her 50-year career. It was a really good speech, and one I appreciated, but she basically just said a few facts and made a nice pitch for the power of storytelling. To an organisation that wants to pat itself on the back for awarding “woman of colour” Anya Taylor-Joy in a story about white people and chess, I think you need to be more explicit. 
Of all the non-Black people who mentioned “diversity” on the broadcast (including Schitt’s Creek’s Dan Levy), not a single person used the word “racism.” And yes, that is what the HFPA has done for years and what the Golden Globes has perpetuated. Presenter Ava Duvernay released a statement before the broadcast laying out why the exclusion of Black creators from these awards matter. “To be clear, pressure applied to the Globes and its partners from now on isn’t about validation or shiny things… The truth is that awards play a part in the economic reality of Black filmmakers, artists of colour and women creators in this business,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, these shiny things matter to those who finance, greenlight, produce, distribute and market our projects.” It’s easy to say that people — especially Black people — should “stop caring” about shows like this, but to do that would be to ignore the systemic barriers an award show like the Golden Globes reinforces. 
The Golden Globes — like the Grammys —  feel increasingly  irrelevant, but the fact is that they aren’t… yet. They uphold an industry rooted in white supremacy and serve as another way for white gatekeepers to keep Black talent shut out. Inversely, that’s exactly why we still celebrate when Daniel Kaluuya overcomes the show trying to do him “dirty” to give one of the best acceptance speeches of the night, or when John Boyega wins, or when Andra Day is awarded Best Actress, only the second time a Black woman has won (the first was Whoopi Goldberg) in the show’s 77-year history. These actors will have more freedom navigating Hollywood’s labyrinth with this hardware on their shelves. As frustrating as it is to admit that a show is still important when it recognises James Corden in Prom over Lakeith Stanfield in literally anything but unfortunately, it still is. And while Duvernay is right that it’s not just about “validation or shiny things” it was nice — albeit heart wrenching — to watch Chadwick Boseman get his recognition posthumously and listen to his wife Taylor Simone Ledward speak of what her husband may have said to accept his award. 
I thought of Boseman’s Fed Up Face a lot during the Golden Globes, but I also thought of what he gave us — aside from the perfect gif for this awards season. He was constantly shining light on Black stories and beautifully living out the lives of Black heroes on screen. And, like so many other Black people, it will only be in death when he’s the most applauded by those outside of his community. 

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