The Golden Globes are held on Tuesday and NBC will rebroadcast them after a year of suspension caused by the revelation, in February 2021, of questionable practices by the HFPA (Hollywood Foreign Press Association). It is not known if the best actress award will go to Ana de Armas or Cate Blanchett, if Jenna Ortega will prevail over Selena Gomez or if any of the winners will even attend the ceremony. The only thing that is clear is that Brendan Fraser is not going. “My mother did not raise a hypocrite. They can call me many things, but not that,” the actor told GQ.
Fraser starts as a favorite for his role in The Whale. Four years ago he reported that the president of the HFPA had sexually harassed him and that the organization did nothing about it. But that’s not why the Golden Globes were canceled last year. In fact, that sexual assault had no real consequences, except that it changed Brendan Fraser’s career forever.
In 2003 Fraser was 34 years old and one of the most popular actors in Hollywood. He had chained several public successes (George of the Jungle, The Mummy and its sequel) and critics (Gods and Monsters, The Impassive American) and that same year he had starred in the blockbuster Looney Tunes: Back in Action. During an HFPA party, HFPA Chairman Philip Berk came up to greet him and, as he shook his right hand, pinched his bottom with his left. This is how Berk himself told it in his memoirs. The actor remembers it differently. “He touched my perineum with one finger and started to move it,” he revealed in a lengthy interview in 2018. Paralyzed by panic, Fraser managed to pull Berk’s hand away. “I felt sick. I felt like a little kid. I felt like there was a lump in my throat. I thought I was going to cry. I ran away, I went home and told my wife what had happened. It felt like invisible paint had been poured over me,” she confessed.
The actor’s representatives demanded an apology from Berk, a veteran South African journalist who is married with four children, but the organization declined to open an investigation, telling Fraser’s team that it was “a joke.” Even so, Berk sent him an email with a conditional apology: “If I have done something to upset Mr. Fraser, it was not my intention and I apologize.” The actor fell into a depression and became obsessed with the idea that he deserved what had happened to him: “I kept repeating to myself: ‘It was nothing, a guy got into you, nothing more.’ But I don’t even remember the next job I did.”
His next job was a small role in Crash, which would go on to win an Oscar in 2005, but Fraser then spent two years without working. “That experience made me withdraw, it made me a recluse,” she recalls. The phone stopped ringing. Brenda Fraser evaporated from the radar of Hollywood and the public. Berk, for her part, denied any responsibility: “The decline of her career is not our fault.”
Meanwhile, the Golden Globes maintained their cachet as a springboard to the Oscars. It was the awards gala that was least affected by the audience bleeding suffered by the Emmys or the Grammys, partly thanks to its status as a “luxury bottle”. The Golden Globes don’t give out dinner, only alcohol, and 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 critically ravaged films like 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. Neither do the voters. The following year the HFPA got in on the prank and rehired Gervais. And so, the lack of seriousness of the organization, known for letting itself be entertained by distributors, became part of its appeal.
Ricky Gervais presenting the 2020 Golden Globes Gala at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles. Doing it with a beer has been a house brand since 2010, the year in which he presented the first of his five galas. Getty Images
The HFPA is a non-profit (and therefore tax-exempt) association that has never hidden its fondness for gifts. Being made up of just 90 members (the Film Academy has 10,000, the Television Academy 25,000), the 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 and dismissed the awards as a mere transaction 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, a consultant charges 4,000 euros to organize a film’s campaign for the Golden Globes, 20,000 if it gets the nomination and 30,000 if it wins. That same 1995 Universal sent out silver tie clips engraved with the Casino title to voters, who awarded the award to Sharon Stone. In 1999, USA Films sent a gold watch valued at €400 to each member of the HFPA and earned Stone a nomination for The Muse. Denzel Washington recounted that producer Freddie Fields assured him that all she 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 afterward. of 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 much feted 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).
Brendan Fraser believes that revealing the incident with Philip Berk in 2018 hurt his career. “Yes, because there is an established system that is related to power. And I had played by their rules up to that point,” he notes. 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 “traded votes for gifts and access to celebrities.” The report indicated that among the 88 members of the organization there was no black person, that many had not practiced journalism for years (the only requirement to qualify as a member is to publish four articles a year) and that, despite not having the intention of For profit, two million of NBC’s money went to pay its members to give talks, serve on committees (about two million a year), or watch foreign films.
The bill for monthly lunches at the Beverly Hilton amounts to more than 5,000 euros. There were three American members representing China, Mexico and Germany, another represented Singapore or India at different times and another Australia, Cuba and the Netherlands. One voter was 90 years old and deaf and blind. “Many of them write for publications I have never heard of in my life,” admitted one publicist.
The report detailed the trip to Paris 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 1,500 euros 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 Globe nominations while it could destroy yourself, created by and starring the black artist Michaela Coel and one of the most acclaimed of the year, was ignored by the awards. “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 or Scarlett Johansson, who confessed to having felt harassed by the tone of the voters’ questions, publicly condemned the HFPA. A group of more than a hundred companies in the industry, including Netflix, Prime Video or 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 grown its voters from 96 to 209 and 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 is fine. The industry cannot afford to give up a showcase of this magnitude with such an established brand image among the public (Who has ever heard the word “prelude” outside the context of the Golden Globes?), so in December it was launched The machinery to reinsert the prestige of the awards is underway:
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 or Diego Luna also celebrated their nominations, as well as the official accounts of Avatar 2, TAR or Marvel. Variety keeps track of stars who have unofficially RSVPed through their publicists. Steven Spielberg, Michelle Williams, Jaime Lee Curtis, Daniel Craig, Austin Butler, Ana de Armas, James Cameron, Guillermo del Toro, Elizabeth Debicki, Jenna Ortega, Kaley Cuoco, Jessica Chastain or Andrew Garfield will walk the red carpet at the Beverly Hilton. “We want the Globes to be a success,” admitted a publicist in Variety. “I think you’re going to see robust attendance 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. To clean under the rug, Hollywood is willing to condemn specific characters like Philip Berk or Harvey Weinstein, but it doesn’t seem to want to change the carpet and put a new one. The Golden Globes keep going like nothing happened. Brendan Fraser will find out about his victory from his house and, with his absence, will save attendees the drink of having to look the other way.