HFPA Responds to Letter From Hollywood Publicists; Cannes Film Festival Appoints Spike Lee as Jury President

A general view of atmosphere at the 71st Golden Globe Awards Nominations Announcement on December 12, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California ;Spike Lee attends the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party on February 09, 2020 in Beverly Hills, California.
A general view of atmosphere at the 71st Golden Globe Awards Nominations Announcement on December 12, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California ;Spike Lee attends the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party on February 09, 2020 in Beverly Hills, California.
Photo: Kevin Winter/Frazer Harrison (Getty Images)

It looks like the pressure is on with this latest update between the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and Hollywood’s top publicists.

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Per a press release sent to The Root, the (virtual) ink has now dried on that forthcoming letter we told you about yesterday from over 100 entertainment public relations and communications firms threatening to pull all clients from all HFPA press and events until they prove what actionable steps they’re going take to address the lack of diversity in their membership. Citing the HFPA’s “long standing exclusionary ethos and pervasive practice of discriminatory behavior,” the letter urges for “transparent and meaningful change” to take place, lest their good-willed intentions be misconstrued.

The letter in full, per press release:

As publicists we collectively represent the vast majority of artists in the entertainment industry.

We call on the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to swiftly manifest profound and lasting change to eradicate the longstanding exclusionary ethos and pervasive practice of discriminatory behavior, unprofessionalism, ethical impropriety and alleged financial corruption endemic to the HFPA, funded by Dick Clark Productions, MRC, NBCUniversal and Comcast.

In the last decade our industry has faced a seismic reckoning and begun to address its failure to reflect and honor the diversity of our community, yet we have witnessed no acceptance of responsibility, accountability or action from the HFPA, even as systemic inequity and egregious behavior are allowed to continue. We collectively and unequivocally agree that transformative change in your organization and its historical practices is essential and entirely achievable. We want to be part of the solution.

To reflect how urgent and necessary we feel this work is, we cannot advocate for our clients to participate in HFPA events or interviews as we await your explicit plans and timeline for transformational change.

While we stand ready to support your good faith efforts, please know that anything less than transparent, meaningful change that respects and honors the diversity and dignity of our clients, their colleagues and our global audience will result in immediate and irreparable damage to the relationship between our agencies, our clients and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and those who sanction the institutional inequity and insular culture that currently define it.

The eyes of the industry and those who support it are watching.

Consequently, the HFPA issued a statement of its own to The Hollywood Reporter acknowledging the need to do better, promising to make at least 13 percent (hmm, that number feels oddly familiar) of membership Black journalists by next year’s ceremony. They also provided a snapshot of the current workstreams put in place to further address their issues. Per THR:

“The Hollywood Foreign Press Association reiterates that we are committed to making necessary changes within our organization and in our industry as a whole. We also acknowledge that we should have done more, and sooner. As a demonstration of our commitment, the board has unanimously approved a plan to increase membership to a minimum of 100 members this year, with a requirement that at least 13 percent of the membership be Black journalists. We are also continuing to work on the comprehensive initiatives announced last week.

“Our outside legal counsel has already begun to work on how to effectively implement transformational changes to our organization, including a comprehensive review of our governance and code of conduct,” the statement explained, identifying Dr. Shaun Harper, as the HFPA’s new strategic diversity advisor, who has identified the following workstreams:

Analyzing policies, practices, member recruitment activities, and member selection processes through the prism of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI);

Facilitating 20 quarterly trainings over the next five years on DEI topics ranging from implicit and explicit bias to strategically diversifying the membership, evolving the Association with changing demographics, welcoming Black members into an inclusive environment, and ensuring equitable pathways to leadership for women members, to name a few;

Facilitating introductions to prospective strategic DEI partner organizations in journalism and entertainment, and developing a strategy to sustain those mutually-rewarding relationships over many years;

Conducting interviews with members to invite their input on the development and strategic actualization of DEI goals. Also gathering qualitative insights from industry leaders on what they feel the Association must do to become more equitable, diverse, and inclusive; and

Systematically assessing and making transparent the Association’s year-to-year progress on DEI goals and commitments.

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They concluded, “We have also started meeting with various advocacy groups and racially diverse partners to gather their input and hear their opinions on the additional reforms that need to take place. While we recognize this is a long-term process, we will continue to be transparent, provide updates, and have confidence in our ability to change and restore trust in our organization and the Golden Globes. As we do so, we invite others in the Hollywood community to join us in advancing racial equity in our industry.”

Additionally, legendary director Spike Lee has been named jury president for this year’s Cannes International Film Festival. In compliance with COVID-19 safety guidelines and best practices, the 2021 festival was forced to move its date from May to July, now scheduled for July 6-17.

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“Prevented last year due to the health crisis, the Festival de Cannes inaugurates this new decade with an outstanding president of the jury, one of the greatest directors of his generation, as well as a screenwriter, actor, editor and producer,” Cannes said in part to The Hollywood Reporter. “For 30 years, the tireless Spike Lee has been an astute chronicler of the questionings of his time, with a resolutely contemporary approach that’s never without a dash of levity and entertainment.”

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Cannes Festival Director Theirry Frémaux added, “Throughout the months of uncertainty we’ve just been through, Spike Lee has never stopped encouraging us. This support is finally coming to fruition and we could not have hoped for a more powerful personality to chart our troubled times. His enthusiasm and passion for cinema has given us a huge boost of energy to prepare the great festival that everybody has been waiting for. We simply can’t wait!”

Official jury selection is set to be announced in June.

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