Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Cornerstone of HFPA, Says Helen Hoehne

Next year’s Golden Globes promises to be a major relaunch for the troubled awards show as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) continues to seek ways to reinvent the event, according to president Helen Hoehne.

Speaking at the Zurich Film Festival on Saturday, Hoehne listed the changes the HFPA has undertaken to address the criticisms that led to a major industry boycott of the show this year.

The HFPA has over the past year “made diversity, equity and inclusion really the cornerstone of our organization. We changed our governance because, as you know, a lot of the award shows are under fire, not just for diversity issues but because of corruption, because of all sorts of other things. And we cleaned up.

“It took a long time and we’re still working on becoming better and making this a very transparent process and really having people engage in award shows again and get them excited about tuning in.”

Hoehne reiterated the HFPA’s recent announcement that in addition to 21 diverse members admitted last year, it had added 103 new international voters, bringing the total number of voters to 200, “which we’re thrilled about. Most of them are female, which I’m also very happy about. And the majority is diverse, which makes our awards show the first awards show really with the most women and diverse members.

“We’re excited – this is only the beginning. I hope we can increase those numbers next year and the following year and really grow as an award show and become better.”

Hoehne added: “We’re thinking of other ways to reinvent ourselves and make the show exciting, bring on an exciting host and really make it a fun party.”

Joining Hoehne at the festival’s Zurich Summit industry event to discuss the “award season of the future” were John Lesher, president of Le Grisbi Production; producer Greg Shapiro of Kingsgate Films; and European Film Academy CEO Matthijs Wouter Knol.  

Talking about the future of the Oscars, Shapiro, Lesher and Knol underscored the many challenges the award show format faces.

“I have ideas as a viewer, as an audience member, because it’s long and it’s slow and it’s difficult to watch sometimes,” Shapiro said. “On the one hand, I know there are a lot of categories that the public doesn’t understand necessarily, but they’re really important to the craft and they deserve to be recognized. In various years the Academy has tried to move them off the show, and it always really upset me. For me, it’s part of the process and they deserve the recognition.”

At the same time, the many technical awards may be too much for audiences more interested in the top categories.

“It’s a really difficult question to answer because the show would be more popular – more people would watch it if it were shorter and focused on the awards that people actually have an appreciation for, which are basically the actors and picture and director. But I for one, personally, would be disappointed if the technical awards would no longer be part it.”

Lesher echoed the sentiment, noting the tricky balance of making the Oscars equally entertaining for the people in the audience as well as for TV viewers.

If you can make it exciting and interesting and relevant to people, people will watch it. It has to be a good show. I think they fail because they just kind of do what they do and it has a certain format and it’s long.

“It feels old fashion,” he added, noting that he often finds it “really tacky, really corny. I want to like it … but why does it look like that? I’m just cringing sometimes at how bad I think it is.”

Knol stressed that the original format of awards shows simply does not work anymore in the same way “regular linear TV doesn’t work that much anymore.”

Discussing the aims of the European Film Academy and the European Film Awards, Knol flatly rejected the notion of emulating American-style shows.

“The European Film Academy has a different aim. Even though we do an award show as well, it’s not the main thing that we want to do.”

He noted that the European Film Awards show “was never set up to be a huge TV broadcast.”

“We’re worried about the fact that in Europe they’ve been doing exactly the same as here in Zurich: We’re talking about the American infrastructure, and we need to adapt to it. That’s not what I want and also not what the European Film Academy wants.”   

In addition to its more low-key awards show, the European Film Academy is undertaking different initiatives to promote European film across the continent, such as its Month of European Film, which showcases and celebrates the year’s top pics in 35 countries from November to December, culminating with the European Film Awards, which this year takes place in Reykjavik on Dec. 10.

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