On Sunday, February 28th, the Golden Globes kicked off the 2021 awards season. With a notable lack of crowded red carpet events this year, people waited with anticipation to see how the Golden Globes would fare in a year of weak box office debuts and celebrities in zoom boxes.
To say that the Golden Globes failed would be a massive understatement. According to media research firm Nielsen, 6.9 million people watched the Tina Fey and Amy Poehler-hosted event on NBC -- barely one-third the size of 2020’s viewership and undoubtedly the least-watched Globes ceremony in modern history. This sad statistic packs an even stronger punch when considering the price tag of the event. Variety claims that in 2018, NBC agreed to pay $60 million per year for the Globes as part of a long-term licensing deal.
So why were the Golden Globes such a monumental flop? The answer lies in the award show’s own schemes behind the scenes. The organization that awards the Golden Globes, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), is notorious for being small, elusive, and vague. It is made up of 87 alleged journalists, none of whom are Black. This is compared to 9,400 eligible Oscars voters. Investigations by both Vulture and LA Times have proved why this list is not available to the public: though some members were high profile journalists, others were actors, producers, or socialites. Money paid to the HFPA by NBC went to subsidizing its own members in order to serve on certain committees or the board. The paychecks, which could allot to $3,000 a month for writing website articles alone, caused journalist Mark Harris to call the Golden Globe voters “indirectly compensated employees of NBC.”
A lawsuit settled in November of 2020 brought to light the shady dealings lurking behind closed doors. In her suit, Kjersti Flaa hoped to hold the HFPA accountable for its “culture of corruption” and ethical conflicts. In addition to subsidizing its members, the LA Times reports that the HFPA was responsible for barring qualified journalists, like Flaa, from gaining membership, as well as monopolizing valuable press access.
The biggest claim however, was that Golden Globes can be bought. Sometimes it’s a little memento, like a phone call from Angelina Jolie, or a personal Christmas card from Tom Cruise. Other times, the gestures are more grand. Cher and Christina Aguilera’s musical “Burlesque” received abysmal reviews from critics before accepting a Golden Globes nomination for Best Picture. This of course, had nothing to do with the voters’ all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas with luxury hotel rooms, food, and a private performance by Cher.
In 1996, Sharon Stone famously took home the Golden Globe for her performance in “The Muse,” after HFPA members were forced to return the $400 Coach watches they received as gifts. This year, guilty pleasure “Emily in Paris” received a surprising 2 nominations after 30 HFPA members were treated to a luxurious vacation in Paris to visit the show’s set. One member stated, “They treated us like kings and queens.”
The judge in the lawsuit ultimately ruled in favor of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, mainly because Flaa faced no notable financial setbacks due to her exclusion from HFPA. Despite this, the losses faced by the Golden Globes as a result of the controversy have cut deep. Low viewership and widespread criticism reflect the public’s distaste for the HFPA’s elusive games. And as a consequence of these tactics, the Golden Globes may come to hold less sway for actors’ Academy Award nominations than they did previously. The Golden Globes have taken the bribes, but the question is, will they pay the price?