Hollywood Foreign Press Association under fire after former president sends anti-BLM email

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which hosts the Golden Globes, is under fire after a former president of the organization sent an anti-Black Lives Matter email.

Scott Feinberg, the Awards Columnist for The Hollywood Reporter, has been closely following the developments.

"The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has always been a bit of a sketchy group. They have been putting on the Golden Globes for over 75 years but never sort of without controversy it seems. There's been one thing after another. They're really now in hot water of a sort that could threaten their very existence which is not something that they're accustomed to. They're usually able to dodge things that have come their way," said Feinberg.

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Philip Berk, 88, is a longtime HFPA member, and former president of eight terms. He reportedly emailed an article to members describing Black Lives Matter as a "racist, hate movement," and was expelled from the HFPA.  

"What happened this week is that it started to fall apart from inside. Up to this point, it's been outside criticism and they can dismiss that as people reacting or whatever, but this week it's been members turning on a 44 year member, Philip Berk, who had sent a very problematic email," said Feinberg.

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Feinberg is also reporting Judy Smith, the inspiration for Olivia Pope from the TV show, "Scandal," and Dr. Shaun Harper, a USC professor, both walked away from HFPA as advisers on Tuesday.

"It turned out that that was the third strike basically for two advisers who the HFPA had brought in to help them recover from this. They both said we didn't realize how bad it was until we got inside and took a look around and realized that this may be beyond repair and we are not going to be the ones, as people of color themselves, to kind of give cover to them if you're not going to help yourselves," said Feinberg.  

The HFPA was already called out by Time's Up and other organizations and leaders after the Los Angeles Times reported there were no Black people on its 87 voting board.

Angelique Jackson, a Film and Media reporter for Variety, spoke to Fox 11 about the trouble the HFPA is facing.

"The timing of this email from Philip Berk is really detrimental to the HFPA's case. They are supposedly trying to work on diversifying their membership, adding up to 13 more Black members. They're having PR firms and other advocacy organizations give them tips on how to make the organization more diverse so to have a former president of the organization send this email calling the Black Lives Matter movement quote a racist hate movement is really, really detrimental to the cause and yes the HFPA made relatively quick action to expel Phil Berk from the organization, but it still put the organization back in the spotlight in a very negative way," said Jackson.

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Jackson reported about how Time's Up sent the HFPA a list of recommendations in March to address concerns including calling for the board and all members to resign.

"Last month Time's Up released a set of recommendations for how the HFPA can really show that they're dedicated to making change. They requested that the HFPA board and really all of its members resign their posts and have to reapply for membership. A lot of questions of what is a working journalist, who can be a member of the HFPA have really come into question during this time. Some of these things [recommendations] include diversifying their membership actively including adding these 13 Black members. It includes taking a look at their practices and determining what things may be a conflict of interest. There's a lot of discussion over some of the perks members have received and how that has potentially weighed their votes when it comes to the Golden Globes in particular," said Jackson.

Feinberg said some of the current requirements to become an HFPA member set barriers for journalists to enter.

"The biggest problem is probably that there are a lot of people in that group who would not withstand a more stringent test if the standards were raised like are you an active journalist? Does that mean writing more than six articles per year that are published? It's not only about the fact that they are lacking in Black members in an embarrassing way, but it's that their own people who are members, in many cases, but certainly not all cases, are questionably qualified," said Feinberg.

Carla Renata, a film critic and owner of "The Curvy Critic with Carla Renata," weighed in on the issues.

"First of all, you're [Berk] a part of an organization that's been under fire practically all this year for not having any Black members in the 80 some odd membership of the HFPA and you're [Berk] going to send an email to the membership talking about Patrisse Cullors [co-founder of Black Lives Matter] calling Black Lives Matter a marxist movement, a hate movement. What is wrong with you [Berk]? Do you not know how to feel the temperature of the room? I don't hear him talking about that insurrection on the Capitol. He's not criticizing that. Patrisse is not a film critic. Why are you criticizing her? Why are you even sending emails to the voting body about somebody who's not even in the film industry? Go have a seat in the corner with that," said Renata.  

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association plans to announce structural changes on May 6 following recommendations from Time's Up and other organizations and firms.

"There's a lot that's kind of being weighed and measured by that May 6 deadline, but it's kind of unclear if certain things like adding 13 members really is actual change. The 13 really comes from Census numbers of the percent of Black people in the US population but what does that actually do and mean when it comes to how we vote?" said Jackson.

Feinberg said the Golden Globes does have value.

"At a time when box office is in danger because of people coming back from the pandemic and movie theaters closing and all that, there is a real function for the Golden Globes if the HFPA is willing to be an honorable organization," said Feinberg.