WarnerMedia Joins HFPA and Golden Globes Boycott, Regrets Industry ‘Tolerated’ Members’ Behavior
WarnerMedia is joining Netflix and Amazon Studios in refusing to participate in any more events related to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association until the org demonstrates real, lasting reform and change, according to a letter that has been sent to HFPA president Ali Sar.
In the letter, signed by key WarnerMedia execs and shared with reporters on Monday morning, the conglomerate writes that its leaders don’t believe that the HFPA’s plans for change, announced last week, “goes far enough in addressing the breadth of our concerns, nor does your timeline capture the immediate need by which these issues should be addressed. WarnerMedia Studios and Networks will continue to refrain from direct engagement with the HFPA, including sanctioned press conferences and invitations to cover other industry events with talent, until these changes are implemented.”
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In particular, WarnerMedia said it’s concerned that the 18-month timeline for change means that “the same voting body will be impacting the next two nomination and voting cycles,” through 2023. “Lasting and meaningful change to your membership goals could be achieved in under 18 months.”
WarnerMedia also singled out the lack of diversity in its nomination and awards process, as well as racially insensitive, sexist and homophobic questions at press conferences and events. “For far too long, demands for perks, special favors and unprofessional requests have been made to our teams and to others across the industry,” the conglom said. “We regret that as an industry, we have complained, but largely tolerated this behavior until now.”
And the conglom also said it “would also like to see the HFPA implement a specific and enforced code of conduct that includes zero tolerance for unwanted physical contact of all talent and staff.” That may be a reference to accusations by actor Brendan Fraser that former HFPA president Philip Berk groped him in 2003.
The boycott includes work with HBO, HBO Max, Warner Bros. Pictures Group, Warner Bros. Television, TNT and TBS. Execs signing the letter include Ann Sarnoff, chair and CEO, WarnerMedia Studios and Networks; Casey Bloys, chief content officer, HBO and HBO Max; Toby Emmerich, chairman, Warner Bros. Pictures Group; Channing Dungey, chairman, Warner Bros. Television Group; Brett Weitz, general manager, TBS, TNT and TruTV; Johanna Fuentes, head of global communications, WarnerMedia Studios and Networks; and Christy Haubegger, chief inclusion officer, WarnerMedia.
The HFPA, which hands out the Golden Globe Awards, has been under fire for months, following an initial exposé by the Los Angeles Times about both the small, insular organization’s questionable financial practices, as well as paltry record of diversity and representation (including an entire lack of Black members). Last week, the group released a framework for reform that includes measures to increase the number of people of color in its ranks. The plan, which was approved on Thursday, also includes new restrictions on gifts that the members could receive and payments for work on their committees.
NBC, which broadcasts the Globes, and Dick Clark Prods., which produces the ceremony, issued statements soon after the announcement, expressing encouragement that the HFPA was taking the industry’s concerns seriously. But soon, the floodgates opened, as various Hollywood groups, studios and streamers said the proposed changes may not go far enough or be able to be implemented fast enough.
On Thursday, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos wrote to the org, “We don’t believe these proposed new policies — particularly around the size and speed of membership growth — will tackle the HFPA’s systemic diversity and inclusion challenges, or the lack of clear standards for how your members should operate.” That was followed by Amazon Studios, which in a statement said, “like the rest of the industry, we are awaiting a sincere and significant resolution before moving forward.”
Lionsgate and Starz issued a statement saying, “We applaud NBC’s decisive action to require the HFPA to make the transformational changes that are needed in their membership, structure and practices. Until they do, we join with our industry colleagues in withdrawing from all HFPA activities.”
A group of more than 100 Hollywood publicity firms wrote in a joint statement about their concerns; Amazon, Time’s Up, GLAAD and actors including Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson and David Oyelowo have also released statements about the org in recent days.
“We will continue to refrain from any HFPA sanctioned events, including press conferences, unless and until these issues are illuminated in detail with a firm commitment to a timeline that respects the looming 2022 season reality,” reads a statement released by the group of publicists on Friday. “We stand ready to collaborate with the HFPA to ensure that the next Golden Globes — be it in 2022 or 2023 — represents the values of our creative community. We are reminded of the HFPA’s 1943 motto, conceived by the original group of foreign journalists: ‘Unity Without Discrimination of Religion or Race.’ Seventy-eight years hence, your commitment to swift and deliberate action remains essential.”
Sar and the HFPA haven’t responded to all of the recent developments, but earlier addressed Sarandos directly: ““We would love to meet with you and your team so we can review the very specific actions that are already in the works,” Sar wrote to the Netflix topper. “An open dialogue would help to ensure that we are addressing these concerns as quickly as possible.”
Here is the WarnerMedia letter to Sar:
As an organization, WarnerMedia is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion as moral and business imperatives, and we strive to be a force for good in our communities. As an industry, together with other production companies, studios, networks, guilds, unions and talent agencies, we all have a responsibility to ensure that our workforce, content and creative partners reflect the diversity of our society and the world around us. This also extends to the organizations with which we do business.
While we commend the HFPA membership’s approval of the plan to move towards radical reform, we don’t believe the plan goes far enough in addressing the breadth of our concerns, nor does your timeline capture the immediate need by which these issues should be addressed. WarnerMedia Studios and Networks will continue to refrain from direct engagement with the HFPA, including sanctioned press conferences and invitations to cover other industry events with talent, until these changes are implemented. This includes work with HBO, HBO Max, Warner Bros. Pictures Group, Warner Bros. Television, TNT and TBS.
The work of ensuring equity and inclusion is never finished and something we all must work together to achieve. We understand the challenges ahead for you, as we work towards diversifying our own executive and employee ranks. However, we call upon you to move with greater urgency. The currently planned 18-month timeline runs through the 2023 Golden Globes, which means the same voting body will be impacting the next two nomination and voting cycles. The HFPA has a membership of less than 90 journalists. Lasting and meaningful change to your membership goals could be achieved in under 18 months. The HFPA cannot accurately reflect the best of our industry until your membership expands to reflect more of the social, cultural and ethnic diversity that exists in the stories we tell and the creators with whom we work.
We’re also asking for a strong commitment to significant change in talent press conferences. We are keenly aware of how much harder we’ve had to lobby to secure press conferences for a number of Black performers and creators, representing unquestionably worthy content. This same work has often then gone unrecognized in your nomination and awards process. In addition, our teams have endured press conferences where our talent were asked racially insensitive, sexist and homophobic questions. For far too long, demands for perks, special favors and unprofessional requests have been made to our teams and to others across the industry. We regret that as an industry, we have complained, but largely tolerated this behavior until now.
Our talent and our staff deserve a professional environment while doing their jobs promoting our series and films. Therefore, we would also like to see the HFPA implement a specific and enforced code of conduct that includes zero tolerance for unwanted physical contact of all talent and staff. We recognize that this conduct is not representative of your full membership, but we need assurances that there will be timely, actionable next steps to discipline members who exhibit inappropriate behavior.
These matters deserve urgency, and the timeline you have proposed thus far does not inspire confidence that meaningful change will happen before two more seasons of voting are impacted. We welcome a discussion to address these issues with you and look forward to your response.
Ann Sarnoff, Chair and CEO, WarnerMedia Studios and Networks
Casey Bloys, Chief Content Officer, HBO and HBO Max
Toby Emmerich, Chairman, Warner Bros. Pictures Group
Channing Dungey, Chairman, Warner Bros. Television Group
Brett Weitz, General Manager, TBS, TNT and truTV
Johanna Fuentes, Head of Global Communications, WarnerMedia Studios and Networks
Christy Haubegger, Chief Inclusion Officer, WarnerMedia
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