Next Monday, NBC will once again broadcast the Golden Globes, after a year-long break spurred by the 2021 scandal about the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s (HFPA) questionable practices. No one knows if the Best Actress award will go to Ana de Armas or Cate Blanchett, if Jenna Ortega will beat out Selena Gomez, or whether any of the winners will even attend the ceremony. The only thing that is clear is that Brendan Fraser will not be there. “My mother didn’t raise a hypocrite. You can call me a lot of things, but not that,” the actor told GQ.
Fraser is a favorite to win Best Actor for his role in The Whale. Four years ago, he publicly stated that the president of the HFPA, which hosts the awards, had sexually harassed him and that the organization did nothing about it. But that is not why the Golden Globes were canceled last year. The incident had no consequences – aside from changing Brendan Fraser’s career forever.
In 2003, Fraser was 34 years old and one of the most popular actors in Hollywood. He had starred in several box office hits (George of the Jungle and The Mummy and its sequel) and critical favorites (Gods and Monsters, The Quiet American). That year, he had played the lead in Looney Tunes: Back in Action. During a HFPA party, its then-president Philip Berk approached Fraser in greeting. While he reached out his right hand, Berk pinched his backside with his left – or so Berk recalls. The actor remembers it differently. “One of his fingers touches me in the taint. And he starts moving it around,” he revealed in a long interview in 2018. Paralyzed by panic, Fraser managed to remove Berk’s hand. “I felt ill. I felt like a little kid. I felt like there was a ball in my throat. I thought I was going to cry. I felt like someone had thrown invisible paint on me,” he confessed.
The actor’s representatives demanded an apology from Berk, a veteran South African journalist who is married with four children, but the organization refused to open an investigation and told Fraser’s team that it had been “a joke.” Berk sent him an email with a conditional apology: “If I’ve done anything that upset Mr. Fraser, it was not intended and I apologize.” The actor fell into a depression, obsessed with the idea that he deserved what had happened to him. “I was saying, ‘This is nothing; this guy reached around and he copped a feel.’ I can’t remember what I went on to work on next.”
His next job was a small role in Crash, which won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2005. Afterwards, Fraser didn’t work for two years. “[The experience] made me retreat. It made me feel reclusive,” he remembers. The phone stopped ringing. Brendan Fraser disappeared from Hollywood’s radar and from the public eye. Berk denies any responsibility: “His career declined through no fault of ours.”
Meanwhile, the Golden Globes maintained their cachet as a springboard to the Oscars. It lost less of its audience than the Emmys or the Grammys, partly thanks to its boozy reputation: the Golden Globes don’t give out dinner, only alcohol. In 2011, even host Ricky Gervais walked on stage with a beer. Gervais openly joked about the lack of rigor of the awards, which had nominated films panned by critics such as The Tourist, Alice in Wonderland and Burlesque, starring Cher, who invited all 90 members of the HFPA to a concert in Las Vegas. “I’m not saying they bought votes,” Gervais said of The Tourist. “I have not seen it. Neither have the voters.” The following year the HFPA got in on the joke and rehired Gervais. And the lack of seriousness of the organization, known for being courted by distributors, became part of its appeal.
The HFPA is a non-profit – and therefore tax-exempt – association that has never hidden its fondness for gifts. It consists of just 90 members, while the Film Academy has 10,000 and the Television Academy 25,000. Distributors could influence their votes with gifts, parties and private meetings with the stars. Everyone in Hollywood knew it. And they all entered the game. As early as 1958, just a decade after the creation of the Golden Globes, President Henry Gris resigned, dismissing the awards as a mere exchange of favors. A federal investigation concluded that the ceremony “substantially misleads the audience as to how winners are chosen,” and NBC canceled their contract. In 1982, millionaire Meshulam Riklis treated voters to a luxurious weekend at his Las Vegas hotel, and weeks later his wife Pia Zadora won the Golden Globe for Most Promising Star. Faced with the controversy, CBS canceled its broadcast contract.
But in 1995, NBC signed an agreement to rebroadcast the gala, and Hollywood embraced it as a promotional showcase for its stars. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, consultants charge $4,200 to organize a film’s campaign for the Golden Globes, making $22,000 if it is nominated and $32,000 if it wins. In 1995, Universal sent silver tie clips, embossed with the title Casino, to voters, who gave the award to the film’s star, Sharon Stone. In 1999, USA Films sent each member of the HFPA a gold watch valued at $430, earning Stone a nomination for The Muse. Denzel Washington recounted that producer Freddie Fields assured him that all he had to do to win a Golden Globe was “feed them” and “take pictures with everyone.” That year he won.
“There has always been a whiff that there was something that was not normal there. It was never a respected organization,” says Josep Parera, a Hollywood correspondent between 1996 and 2019. “HFPA members were known for taking photos with stars after the interviews. There were great journalists in the HFPA, but they were dwarfed by the less professional members. They enjoyed special access to artists and were courted at parties, especially by the likes of Harvey Weinstein. The rise of the Golden Globes in the 1990s coincided with Weinstein’s million-dollar campaigns. The awards served as marketing for the films. They gave relevance to a film when they appeared on its poster, and the gala was a three-hour parade of stars, because there are no technical categories. In addition, the economic impact of the ceremony was tremendous for the city of Los Angeles: hotels were closed, party venues were rented, makeup artists, designers, jewelers were hired, a lot of publicity was put in.”
Brendan Fraser believes that revealing the incident with Philip Berk in 2018 hurt his career. “Yes, because there’s a system in place that is about power. And I had played by the rules up until that point,” he says. The HFPA not only took no action against Berk for sexually harassing Fraser, but reelected him in 2009. Berk held his position until 2020, when he forwarded an email to all members describing the Black Lives Matter movement as “a racist hate group.”
His removal sparked an image crisis at the HFPA that culminated in a February 2021 Los Angeles Times report revealing a “culture of corruption” in which members exchanged votes for gifts and access to celebrities. The report indicated that of the 88 members of the organization, not one was Black. Many had not practiced journalism for years: the only requirement to qualify as a member is to publish four articles a year. Despite being a non-profit, $2 million of NBC’s money went to pay its members to give talks, serve on committees and watch foreign films.
The bill for monthly lunches at the Beverly Hilton amounts to more than $5,200. Three American members represented China, Mexico and Germany. Another represented Singapore and India at different times, and another Australia, Cuba, and the Netherlands. One 90-year-old voter was deaf and blind. “A lot of them work with outlets I’ve never heard of,” admitted one publicist.
The report detailed a Paris trip that the Paramount Network had arranged for 30 voters. “They treated us like kings,” said one of the honorees. The experience included a stay at the Peninsula hotel (five stars, at $1,700 a night), dinners in museums and a visit to the set of Emily in Paris, a series with terrible reviews that would end up getting two Golden Globes nominations, while the awards ignored one of the most acclaimed series of the year: I May Destroy You, created by and starring Black artist Michaela Coel. “You have to invite them to nice receptions in fancy places,” said one publicist. “If not, they complain and are very direct in their protests.”
The scandal made it untenable for Hollywood to continue looking the other way. Actors like Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johansson, who confessed to having felt harassed by the tone of the voters’ questions, publicly condemned the HFPA. A group of more than 100 companies in the industry, including Netflix, Prime Video and WarnerMedia, signed a letter demanding forceful and specific changes that “represent the values of our creative community.” Tom Cruise returned his three Golden Globes. Finally, NBC suspended the broadcast.
But just a year later, everything seems to have returned to normal. The HFPA has increased its slate of voters from 96 to 209. The majority are women and people of color from 62 different countries. The Golden Globes are now the only awards in which more women vote than men (52%) and the only ones with a racially diverse majority (51.8%). None of them can receive gifts or invitations to events or trips. “This is no longer the old HFPA,” the new president clarified in The Hollywood Reporter. Hollywood doesn’t care. The industry cannot afford to give up a showcase of this magnitude with such an established brand image among the public. So in December, the machinery to rescue the awards’ prestige was launched: as soon as Mayan Lopez and Selenis Leyva announced the nominations, several of the winners celebrated it on their social media, unlike the collective silence of last year.
Selena Gomez posted a video of her as a child explaining that her dream was to be nominated for the Golden Globe. Hugh Jackman put his hand on his heart to thank the HFPA for the honor. Jessica Chastain, Kevin Costner and Diego Luna also celebrated their nominations, as well as the official accounts of Avatar: The Way of the Water, TÁR and Marvel. Variety is keeping track of stars who have unofficially RSVPed through their publicists. Steven Spielberg, Michelle Williams, Jamie Lee Curtis, Daniel Craig, Austin Butler, Ana de Armas, James Cameron, Guillermo del Toro, Elizabeth Debicki, Jenna Ortega, Kaley Cuoco, Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield will walk the red carpet at the Beverly Hilton. “We want the Globes to succeed,” one publicist told Variety. “I think you’re going to see a robust attendance at the show this year.”
Behind this remodeling is the Eldridge investment fund, which bought the HFPA in July 2022 and turned it into a private company that no longer has to disclose its financial data or give explanations. Hollywood is willing to sweep specific characters – like Philip Berk or Harvey Weinstein – under the rug, but it doesn’t seem to want to lift it up. The Golden Globes keep going as if nothing happened. Brendan Fraser will hear about his victory from his home. His absence will save attendees the awkwardness of having to look the other way.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition