HFPA Rejected Press Conferences for Black-Led Projects, Insiders Say

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HFPA Rejected Press Conferences for Black-Led Projects Like ‘Bridgerton,’ Insiders Say (Exclusive)

None of the films or series ended up getting Golden Globe nominations, despite other honors

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the organization behind the Golden Globes, denied requests to hold press conferences for three major projects with Black-led casts in recent years, including “Bridgerton,” “Girls Trip” and “Queen & Slim,” individuals close to the projects told TheWrap.

All three projects submitted requests through their studio or streaming distributor to hold press conferences with the 87-member organization and were turned down for lack of interest or other reasons, according to individuals close to each project. None wound up receiving a single Globe nomination.

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A spokesperson for the HFPA, which on Monday promised to have at least 13% Black members by the end of 2021 in the wake of a growing backlash over its lack of diversity, declined to comment for this story. But an individual close to the group said the HFPA held a press conference for “Bridgerton” after the show’s premiere, scheduled one for “Queen & Slim” that the studio canceled and did not hold a press conference for “Girls Trip” because of travel conflicts.

Press conferences with HFPA members are important elements in raising awareness of movies and TV shows among the clubby group of foreign journalists who vote for the annual Golden Globe awards. The HFPA does not grant that privilege to every project. In the case of Black-led projects, insiders told TheWrap that often there is not enough interest to warrant scheduling a press conference.

An individual who has worked on the screenings told TheWrap that a lot of press conferences get canceled or postponed solely because of the lack of RSVPs. “There is an expense getting everyone to get together, getting the space, doing the glam and we then don’t want to walk into the room that only has four or five people,” the insider said. “It happens all the time.”

“Bridgerton” (Courtesy of Netflix)

But a second HFPA insider said that the group will often decline coverage of a movie or show if event organizers think the talent isn’t famous enough to warrant a sale to the overseas publications for which members write stories.

That might partly explain the lack of interest in projects rooted in racial issues like Ava DuVernay’s 2019 Netflix limited series “When They See Us.” The show was completely shut out by the Globes last year despite rave reviews and 16 Emmy nominations (and two wins, including for lead actor Jharrel Jerome). HBO’s U.K.-based series “I May Destroy You,” which was critically acclaimed in 2020, also got shut out in this year’s Globe nominations.

In the case of “Bridgerton,” the surprise hit Netflix series produced by Shonda Rhimes, an individual close to the project said the HFPA initially declined the streamer’s request for a press conference last December and suddenly asked for one a few weeks later — just days before the deadline for Golden Globes ballots.

“They declined conferencing the show prelaunch,” the insider said, referring to a press conference held before a show debuts. “They came back after launch, like a lot of people who didn’t know what it was… After the New Year, it was, ‘We have to do this,’ three or four days before ballots close.” The individual close to the HFPA said the group held a press conference with stars Regé-Jean Page and Phoebe Dynevor on Jan. 8, just before nomination ballots were due.

In the end, “Bridgerton” was completely snubbed for Globes nominations. The show received two nominations for next month’s Screen Actors Guild Awards, for best ensemble in a drama series and Page as lead actor in a drama series.

“Girls Trip” (Courtesy of Universal)

According to individuals with knowledge of the situation, the HFPA also turned down requests from Universal to host events for “Girls Trip,” a 2017 comedy starring Tiffany Haddish, and “Queen and Slim,” a 2019 drama written by Lena Waithe and directed by Melina Matsoukas.

The HFPA did not hold a press conference for “Girls Trip,” a rollicking comedy from director Malcolm Lee that earned rave reviews for Haddish as one of a group of friends who travel to New Orleans for the annual Essence Festival and rekindle their relationships. The movie was a huge hit that grossed $140 million at the box office — and Haddish won the Best Supporting Actress prize from the New York Film Critics Circle. But the comedy didn’t receive a single Globes nomination.

Jada Pinkett Smith, who co-starred in “Girls Trip” with Haddish, went public with her displeasure over the way she said the film had been treated by HFPA. “I’m not upset about @TiffanyHaddish or @GirlsTripMovie not getting a nom…I’m discouraged about the fact that the Hollywood Foreign Press/goldenglobes wouldn’t even WATCH the movie,” Pinkett Smith tweeted.

“People were annoyed at the time,” an individual close to the movie told TheWrap. “Tiffany Haddish did not do a press conference. She was not nominated… (Her team) was disappointed at the time, and it did slow down the Oscar talk.” A rep for Universal declined to comment.

The individual close to the HFPA said no press conference was held for the film because members were unable to travel to New Orleans for the junket.

“Queen & Slim” (Campbell Addy/Universal Pictures)

The 2019 film “Queen & Slim” generated “a lot of back and forth” over scheduling screenings and a press conference, an individual with knowledge of that project said, adding that there were a lot of no-shows and failures to RSVP from HFPA members.

The film, starring Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith as a couple on a first date whose evening takes an unexpected turn when a cop pulls them over for a minor traffic violation, received lots of awards recognition from other groups. The drama won Best Movie at the BET Awards and earned nominations for Kaluuya at the American Film Awards and for Matsoukas at the DGA Awards.

Director Matsoukas told Variety in 2019 that members had skipped multiple screenings of “Queen & Slim” that had been set for them, and therefore wasn’t surprised when the film got shut out for Globe nominations.

An individual with knowledge of the project confirmed that Universal had set up screenings for “Queen & Slim” and that few HFPA members attended. “They were offered screenings and did not attend and refused a presser,” the individual said.

However, the first HFPA insider said that a press conference “had been on the calendar for quite a bit of time” with Kaluuya, Turner-Smith, Matsoukas and Waithe until the studio decided to cancel. A set visit was also canceled by the studio due to a change in shooting schedule. Universal declined to comment.

Insiders said that they see an unequal treatment of Black-led projects as more evidence of bias, another challenge that the HFPA must address in its high-stakes battle to salvage its reputation amid mounting frustration with the group’s lack of diversity. The issue has become a rallying cry for radical change, triggered by the fact that the 87-member organization comprised of foreign journalists has no Black members and has been accused of self-dealing through $2 million in annual payments to members for basic committee work.

Criticism of the HFPA and its lack of diversity isn’t new. As far back as 2013, TheWrap reported that a Black applicant from the U.K. was rejected by an overwhelming vote. However, observers say the recent Black Lives Matter movement has made the focus on the lack of Black members impossible to ignore in 2021.

Just days before last month’s ceremony, the Time’s Up organization launched a #TimesUpGlobes protest campaign over the group’s lack of diversity. Hollywood influencers like Ava DuVernay, Judd Apatow and Shonda Rhimes joined in posting statements calling on the organization to make a commitment to diversify.

Since then, HFPA members have asked for the Board of Directors to resign, as TheWrap exclusively reported, and the organization hired a diversity consultant and an outside law firm to make “transformational changes.” Still, on Monday, more than 100 Hollywood public relations firms demanded that the HFPA enact “profound and lasting” change or their clients will not “participate in HFPA events or interviews” going forward.

The threatened blackout could be devastating to the HFPA, whose members make their living writing articles from press conferences and movie junkets with Hollywood stars. For example, the Marvel blockbuster “Black Widow” comes out on May 7, starring Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz and others. Under this action, the stars would not be available.

Diane Haithman contributed to this report. 

Beatrice Verhoeven