Wednesday 11 January 2023

Confessions of a Golden Globes voter

It's been 40 years this month since the Golden Globes presented New Star of the Year to billionaire socialite and notoriously unpromising star Pia Zadora. Clearly something was seriously wrong with this organisation, and as a student journalist writing about film for a local weekly newspaper, I was surprised to learn that these supposedly venerable awards were actually presented by only a few dozen foreign journalists based in Los Angeles. And this award revealed that their prizes had price tags. Indeed, just over a decade earlier the ceremony had been forced off the air when the FCC charged the organising Hollywood Foreign Press Association with misleading the public about how winners were determined.

Pia Zadora in 1982
Since then, the HFPA has never been taken serious by the industry, other than as a ratings bonanza to boost the buzz for more reputable awards. The biggest stars have consistently attended their lively ceremony, and the prizes are named in the same breath as Oscar and Bafta, which are voted on by thousands of artists who make movies. It's never been a secret that the Globes voters only seemed to be in the business for the parties, trips and gifts. So it was never surprising that their ceremonies were peppered with dodgy winners. Even so, they steadily grew in influence thanks to A-list stars who turned up for the big night.

It took a major newspaper investigation to reveal a bigger picture. A February 2021 Los Angeles Times report exposed a culture of ethical failings among HFPA members and a startling lack of diversity among its 87 voters. This time, the outrage caught hold and the organisation was forced to take action, holding its ceremony off the air in January 2022 while completely restructuring the company and inviting more diverse members, now including foreign journalists who are based in other North American cities. Then last summer, they invited journalists who live abroad to join as "international voters" for the 80th Golden Globes in January 2023.

The LA Times report
This is where I came in. I received the invitation through the international critics' federation Fipresci, and my first reaction was scepticism. But I've never been someone who simply dismisses anyone or anything based on past mistakes. As I thought about it, I began to feel that maybe I should check this out: instead of sitting back and criticising the Globes for their toxicity, perhaps I could be more proactive. HFPA President Helen Hoehne has spoken of the "momentous change" within the organisation, and this was a chance to see that for myself and, in a very small way, help nudge it forward.

I was certainly surprised by the ethical rules, as I was asked to sign a strict code of conduct and declare any potential conflicts of interest (this had to be done at every step in the process, including on the ballots themselves). Then the zoom meeting welcoming the international intake was properly refreshing, as I saw more than 100 people from 62 countries participating in the discussion. Clearly this was going to have a major impact on the nominations. That said, we were divided into two groups (film and TV voters), so the 100 full members still have a majority.

80th Golden Globes: film acting winners Michelle Yeoh,
Colin Farrell, Cate Blanchett (did not attend),
Austin Butler, Angela Bassett and Ke Huy Quan
Throughout awards season, being a Globes voter provided excellent access to even the most marginal contending films, although it's never too difficult as I also vote in the London Critics' Circle Film Awards, Galeca's Dorian Awards, Fipresci's prizes and the Online Film Critics Society Awards. And my parents live in Southern California, so when I visited them in November I was able to attend an in-person Golden Globes screening (for Babylon on the Paramount lot) and meet several members in person.

From this, as well as a series of zoom meetings, it was nice to see what a friendly group of people they are. They come from all over the world, so as a lifelong expat I immediately have common ground there. And being in a room with them, I could see that there's a family camaraderie between them, which I also recognise as someone who has lived most of my life as a foreigner. As far as I know, I am the only international voter that the members met at a screening.

80th Golden Globes: host Jerrod Carmichael,
Carol Burnett Award winner Ryan Murphy, TV actresses Jennifer Coolidge
and Quinta Brunson, and Cecil B DeMille Award winner Eddie Murphy
Then the nominations came out and, while there were some wonderful wildcards in there, I was a bit disappointed that there weren't more comprehensive surprises (it should be noted that the DGA didn't nominate any female directors either this year). While the winners are perhaps predictable, they're also a notably diverse bunch. Annoyingly, because the Golden Globes has never had a UK broadcast, there was no way for me to watch the ceremony, so I have only seen online clips.

In the end, while I would have liked for the international voters to spark a more revolutionary set of nominees and winners, I am glad that I participated in this process. I am genuinely rooting for the HFPA to continue cleaning up its act, perhaps by more effectively highlighting its considerable charity work and further diversifying its voting base, perhaps with the inclusion of even more international voters. I don't know if I'll be invited to participate next year, but I'll always prefer to have a hand in change rather than complain that it's not happening quickly enough.

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