In Hollywood, the maxim goes, “The show must go on.” Even, it seems, if there is no show.
So it was that, on Sunday evening, the embattled Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. — bumped off the air by NBC following months of blistering controversy sparked by a February 2021 Times investigation — handed out its 79th Golden Globe Awards at a glitz-free private event in the ballroom of the Beverly Hilton hotel, with no celebrities, no host and no free-flowing champagne.
As in any year, the night had its big winners. Jane Campion’s brooding western “Power of the Dog” won the best picture prize in the drama category, and Steven Spielberg’s sweeping new take on “West Side Story” claimed the top prize in the musical or comedy category. The HBO series “Succession” and “Hacks” won the top series prizes, while actors including Will Smith, Nicole Kidman, Michael Keaton and Kate Winslet claimed trophies too.
But none of the winners chose to attend the event. No stars were there to deliver snappy comic banter or give tearful acceptances speeches. And no one was watching.
With the stars gone, the spotlight was turned on the HFPA’s recent woes and its ongoing efforts to deliver on its promised reforms.
“Last year the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. was challenged to change — and we did,” HFPA President Helen Hoehne said in her remarks. “We are on a journey of change and we’re not going to rest. We are going to be outspoken about what we’re learning and challenge others to join us.”
Roughly 70 of the HFPA’s 105 members gathered for the black-tie ceremony and reception, according to one attendee, along with a handful of recent recipients of charitable grants from the organization and other friends and supporters. With the pandemic wreaking havoc for a second year straight on the usual awards traditions, strict COVID protocols were followed.
Where the Hilton would in former years have been the epicenter of Hollywood glamour, power and money, there was just a quiet Sunday night, with only Hilton staff and the occasional oblivious hotel guest passing outside the ballroom. A modest reception was held on the pool deck afterwards. But there were no glamorous and high-priced studio-hosted afterparties, no limousines, no breathless red carpet interviews, no snapping flashbulbs.
With the event neither televised nor live-streamed — and with the media barred from covering it in person — the HFPA unveiled this year’s winners to the public on its web site and via social media, a format that sorely lacked the snap and crackle of a live TV show featuring Hollywood’s funniest and most charismatic talent.
“If laughter is the best medicine, @WestSideMovie is the cure for what ails you,” read the tweet announcing the climactic win for “West Side Story,” a tragic love story involving racial tensions that is not exactly intended to be hilarious. (The tweet was later revised to read “If music is the best medicine…”)
A number of tweets failed to cite the work the winner was being honored for: “Save the drama for Will Smith, who takes home the #GoldenGlobe for Best Actor — Motion Picture — Drama,” read one about the “King Richard” star.
For the HFPA, the muted event — the very existence of which many regular Globes viewers were likely unaware — represented a stunning stumble from the improbable perch of influence the small cadre of foreign entertainment journalists had enjoyed for decades. Fighting for its survival, the organization was determined to hand out its awards as it had for nearly 80 years. But the run-up to the event was overshadowed by questions of whether they had any real meaning or relevance.
“If a tree wins a Golden Globe in the forest but it’s not televised, does it still make an embarrassing speech?” Conan O’Brien joked on Twitter on Friday.
Though frequently dogged by questions of credibility and legitimacy, the Globes have long been touted as “Hollywood’s Party of the Year,” drawing a cheerfully lubricated crowd of A-listers and, in pre-pandemic times, an audience of some 18 million viewers. But in the wake of The Times investigation, which raised questions about the HFPA’s ethics and governance and highlighted the fact that the then-87 member group had no Black members, the association’s members have been all but exiled by an industry that had long courted their favor.
For nearly a year, the HFPA has undertaken a series of reforms, overhauling its bylaws, hiring a chief diversity officer and bringing in 21 new members, including six who are Black. At its event on Sunday, the HFPA sought to highlight its progress when it comes to issues of inclusion, with Kyle Bowser, senior vice president of the NAACP Hollywood Bureau, speaking about a joint five-year partnership the organization has forged with the HFPA, dubbed the “Reimagine Coalition,” to increase representation in the industry and support artists and journalists of color.
Bowser concluded his speech by nodding to “the attention that has deservedly been paid to the HFPA’s shortcomings” while affirming that the “NAACP supports their effort to reform and applauds HFPA’s offer to share its transitional experience as a template for the entire industry to emulate.”
Still, the organization has struggled to get back in the industry’s good graces. Accustomed to being lavished with special attention by celebrities and studios, the HFPA has faced a boycott led by the industry’s leading talent publicists, cutting it off from its lifeblood of star power. When the HFPA announced this year’s nominations in December, the event — emceed by rapper and pitchman Snoop Dogg, who mangled more than a few of the nominees’ names — was greeted with a mix of silence and befuddlement.
Beset by external criticisms and internal frictions, the HFPA used Sunday’s event to put a spotlight on its philanthropy work, showcasing four of its newest grantees: Get Lit, St. Elmo Village, Streetlights and Los Fotos. As the event went on, the Golden Globes Twitter account shared videos showcasing the beneficiaries’ work, and actress Jamie Lee Curtis — a seven-time Globes nominee and two-time winner — appeared in a video to “honor and stand with” the organization’s philanthropic efforts. “I’m proud to be associated with them in this venture,” said Curtis, who has twice hosted HFPA’s grantee banquets.
Near the show’s conclusion, Arnold Schwarzenegger also appeared in a short video, touting the generosity and openness of the HFPA, noting that in 1977 the group awarded him, an Austrian bodybuilder with a last name some in Hollywood advised him to change, the best newcomer Globe in 1977 for the film “Stay Hungry.” “These are the international journalists with the world view,” he said of the group.
In recent years, the non-profit organization has stepped up its charitable giving, donating millions of dollars annually to organizations supporting the arts, journalism and humanitarian causes. At the same time, The Times investigation revealed, the organization has funneled an increasing amount each year — reaching around $2 million in 2020 — to its own rank and file for serving on numerous committees and performing various tasks.
”No other awards community shows as much love and generosity to others quite like the HFPA,” the Globes posted on its official live blog mid-way through the event.
But for all of its efforts to burnish its reputation, the HFPA’s only real currency in Hollywood rests in the perceived value of its awards — and there, its stock has plummeted. While trophies will be sent to this year’s winners, it remains to be seen whether any stars will acknowledge them — or whether any of the studios that pump millions annually into wooing Globes voters will tout the wins in their marketing campaigns in the lead-up to the Oscars in March.
Indeed, given the HFPA’s current troubles and precarious position, many in Hollywood feel that the group would have been better off simply sitting this year out rather than attempting to plow ahead awkwardly with a celebrity-free ceremony.
“I think they definitely shot themselves in the foot,” said one source who has dealt with the organization for years but declined to be named out of fear of retaliation. “They needed to do a James Franco: When you [screw] up, go away and let people miss you, or hope they do. Instead, they’ve been in the news constantly for things they shouldn’t be.”
Times staff writers Christi Carras and Stacy Perman contributed to this report.