Hollywood Foreign Press Association: Everything you need to know about the body behind the Golden Globe Awards

These group of journalist not only spearhead one of the most important award ceremonies of the year, but also give a platform for unrecognized films for the Oscar jury


                            Hollywood Foreign Press Association: Everything you need to know about the body behind the Golden Globe Awards

The glittering harbinger of the Oscars, the Golden Globe, is just around the corner and the group which bestows the awards, and whose words are often taken as gospel at the award ceremony, is once again under the radar for the nominations announced on December 6.

As one of the most unpredictable award ceremonies of the season, the 76th Golden Globe awards on January 6, hosted by Sandra Oh and Andy Samberg, is all set to honor the slightly less traditional bodies of work in the film industry that would have otherwise gone unnoticed by the Oscar jury or the Emmys.

However, over the years the less "prestigious" sibling of the Oscars has not only received backlash from the film society for its biased take on its competitors, but has also seen a significant amount of disagreement due to its capricious nature when it comes to distributing the awards.

The organization behind the ceremony, Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), has probably been under the radar ever since its inception back in the '40s. Yet its impact on the decision-making cell of the awards can be easily determined by the amount of importance given to this tiny body, which in a way dictates the awards. 



 

So what is the HFPA? 

Let's just say, it is a handful of people, who in no way have any experience with filmmaking, deciding what can be categorized as the best film and shows of the year.

Unlike the Oscars which consists of 6,876 active members including music producers, make up artists, actors, casting directors and cinematographers, the HFPA's strength is barely 90 members, with the membership never surpassing 100 people. This easily highlights how undemocratic the organization's approach is towards art, but that certainly does not stop it from pushing out films that might have been overlooked by the Academy-Awards massive jury. 

The HFPA's roots go back to the early 1940s when America just about entering the Second World War following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

At the time, when men were leaving home to face their enemies, as an escape from the impact of the war, people turned to the cinema for entertainment. While filmmakers like Orson Welles, Preston Sturges, Darryl Zanuck, and Michael Curtiz were working hard to bring to the people some of the iconic movies of the time, a handful of overseas journalists who were based out of Los Angeles, came together to share information, contacts, materials, and sources about the films of the time. 

The HFPA brought together a group of overseas journalists who were receiving no recognition on the American soil. (HFPA)
The HFPA brought together a group of overseas journalists who were receiving no recognition on the American soil. (HFPA)

However, this wasn't the first time that such an initiative had been taken. The process started as early as 1928 when the Hollywood Association of Foreign Correspondents (HAFCO) was formed following which, in 1935, the Foreign Press Society was established.

In spite of its 15 minutes of fame, when Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford appeared at an International Ball that was organized by HAFCO at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, none of the two organizations stood for long.

Yet, it did not prevent a group of journalists, led by the correspondent for Britain's Daily Mail, to form the Hollywood Foreign Correspondents Association in 1943 which came to follow the motto, “Unity Without Discrimination of Religion or Race.”

What began as informal indoor gatherings soon turned into events held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, and at the organization's first special luncheon in December 1947, a meritorious plaque was awarded to Harry M. Warner, president of Warner Bros., in recognition of his humanitarian work as the principal sponsor of the “Friendship Train,” which left Hollywood with food, clothing, and medical supplies for the needy of Europe.

However, due to differing philosophies of the members of the association, it resulted in a split in 1950 into two groups - the Hollywood Foreign Correspondents Association and the Foreign Press Association of Hollywood.

After giving out two separate awards - Golden Globes and Henrietta -- the separation ended in 1955 when the journalists reunited under the collective title “The Hollywood Foreign Press Association.”  

Harry M Warner was recognized for his humanitarian works. (Warner Bros.)
Harry M Warner was recognized for his humanitarian works. (Warner Bros.)

 

What does it take to be a member of the HFPA?

Not much, really! After finally forming a unified body, the HFPA came up with some considerably lenient guidelines that required the members to be working for a foreign publication but be based out of Southern California (doubtful if the term "foreign" holds any meaning here), with at least four articles in a foreign publication within the year preceding their application.

This opens the door for both freelancers and full-time employees to apply. Applications are accepted annually in February and March, once proof of payment for their articles and a "letter of appointment as a Hollywood correspondent from a foreign publication of recognized standing, published outside the continental United States" is furnished. All of this is finalized once an initiation fee of $500 is paid. 



 

So what is the authenticity of the organization?

Well, let's just say it is as authentic as a tiny group of votes can be in a democracy with a strength of millions. The intention behind forming the HFPA was as basic as journalists trying to get access to some of the top people in Hollywood.

Their primary goal was to "formalize their relationship with the studios and facilitate their work of interviewing movie stars and film directors for publications around the world." It can be also seen as a way for the overseas journalists who were otherwise not receiving enough attention in the American soil to finally get their golden passes to the movie stars and film directors they wanted. 

Also, when it comes to voting, the current president of the HFPA is Meher Tatna, who writes for Singapore's The New Paper and heads the process and the organization sets up the list of nominees on its website

However, according to Vulture, which in 2015 compiled a list of the active members of HFPA, the organization's voters hail literally from all over the world which includes countries like Brazil, Italy, Germany, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Egypt, Canada, India, and so on.

Although the body consists of members from every spectrum of journalism, there are some prominent journalists such as Silvio Bizio, who writes for Italy's La Repubblica, Aud Berggren Morisse, who has written for the Norwegian paper Verdens Gang since 1992, and Jean-Paul Chaillet, who joined the HFPA while at the French film magazine Première before moving on to the daily newspaper Le Figaro, who spearhead the voting process. 

It can be assumed that probably, in spite of its tiny body of woo-ers, HFPA continues to have a stronghold on the film industry as it is far easier to promote a particular project, be it for the small screen or the big screen, through a smaller targeted audience. Especially if that audience is given the tremendous privilege of pushing out films for the Oscars. 

Yet not all's well with HFPA!

Due to its small group of allegedly unqualified voters, HFPA has been under tremendous scrutiny for several years. It probably received its most strenuous backlash from the movie critic, Peter Howell, who in a frenzied rant about the press junket during the promotion of 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' in December 2008, claimed, "The HFPA pretends to be a democratic operation, but it operates mainly in the dark, revealing only the names and the 55 countries represented by its members...At the press junket for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in December 2008, journalists who had flown to Los Angeles from around the world had to make do with interviews from secondary stars of the film, because stars Pitt, Cate Blanchett, and director David Fincher were spending all their time currying HFPA favors." 

Accusations also came from inside the house, when in 2014, former HFPA president Philip Berk took a "leave of absence" from the organization after he published his memoir, 'Signs And Wonders', where he exposed HFPA's tendency to be biased, giving out awards not based on merit, but the personal connections the organization had with the celebrities.  

"Nicole Kidman but not her co-star Dustin Hoffman did an interview for ‘Billy Bathgate,' and it paid off," he wrote. "[Kidman] was nominated; he was not." In fact members of the organization have been accused of utilizing their free pass to the world of celebrities as a source to their own 15 minutes of fame, instead of actually doing their work as film critics. 

HFPA received a massive backlash for diverting the attention during the press junket of 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'. (IMDb)
HFPA received a massive backlash for diverting the attention during the press junket of 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'. (IMDb)

Can we blame HFPA for their partiality?

The answer is yes, and NO!

Yes, we can blame them because any work of art - be it films, television shows or music - is highly subjective when it comes to considering the audience's perception of the work. Although the HFPA's decision does decide who takes home the glittering Gloden Globe, it certainly should not be the last word in the industry.

That is why we cannot blame them, because often their decision has actually compelled the Oscars to consider films which would have otherwise never made to the list of the 6000 strong jury. Projects that are not the obvious choices for nominations certainly have a better audience in a tiny group of 90 people, as opposed to the large (and more democratic) body of the Oscars or the Emmys.



 

This is also what makes the HFPA's results utterly random because one vote in 90 carries a lot more weight as compared to the scattered, more varied votes of almost 6000-8000 people in the Oscar jury.

It has also opened up the space for streaming platforms such as Hulu and Amazon which were given Best Comedy nominations for 'Casual' and 'Mozart in the Jungle', respectively. Considering their reach even in the fringes of the industry, it can be said that the HFPA is the avant-courier of the underdogs. 

Whatever be the voting nature of the HFPA or your stance on it, the Golden Globes are returning on January 6, 2019, and the nominations are already under the scrutiny of both films buffs and critics alike.