Two board members of the group that hands out the Golden Globes have been accused of sexual harassment, by a member who himself is facing an investigation into claims of sexual misconduct.
Husam Asi was put on probation by the beleaguered Hollywood Foreign Press Association in February pending a disciplinary review of allegations made in an online article. He’s since lost his work at BBC Arabic and the Al Quds Al Arabi newspaper.
In his lawsuit, filed with the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, he argues that the HFPA’s decision to expand its investigation – to include allegedly anti-semitic comments he made about the writer of the article in question – and delays in the inquiry since then have further damaged him. The writer of the article says she has been interviewed as part of the investigation but has heard nothing since.
Asi has denied the claims made by three women, describing them as baseless.
His suit says that in 2018, a woman who is now on the board grabbed his buttocks in front of other journalists on more than one occasion, leaving him feel “shamed, ridiculed and embarrassed in front of his colleagues.” He also alleges that another board member put her tongue in his throat at a party, in front of several witnesses, without his consent. The suit notes that while the HFPA was “prompt” in its action against him, for the individual who groped him, “no investigation was conducted by the HFPA and there were no adverse consequences.”
Asi – who identifies as a Muslim Palestinian – also says that during his 12 years as an HFPA member, he has been referred to by colleagues as “an angry Arab” and described multiple times by the leadership as a “terrorist.”
A spokesman for the HFPA declined to comment on Asi’s allegations until he was “better informed” about the contents of the suit. In a statement, he said all members who faced “significant and serious charges” are subject to the same disciplinary review process – but could not say whether this would now apply to the board members accused of sexual harassment by Asi.
The lawsuit accuses the HFPA of using “false claims against Dr Asi as an opportunity to make it appear as if it takes allegations seriously and is changing its culture.” And it says the HFPA is weaponising the allegations against him to retaliate for his attempts to hold the board accountable.
The organisation – which represents LA-based journalists covering entertainment stories for outlets beyond the US – has itself been under pressure for some time over allegations of racism and corruption. Just before last year’s Golden Globes ceremony, the LA Times highlighted the fact that there were no black members among about ninety international journalists. The point was highlighted when Sacha Baron Cohen ironically thanked the “all white” Hollywood Foreign Press Association for his Golden Globe last year.
And the HFPA has long faced accusations that Golden Globes are awarded to films that offer voters the best gifts, the best access to stars or the best trips. As long ago as 2011, the Golden Globes host Ricky Gervais joked that wanting to hang out with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie wasn’t the only reason HFPA members nominated The Tourist; “they also accepted bribes.” At the same ceremony, he noted that Cher’s Burlesque was nominated after members were flown to her concert in Las Vegas, joking “Now how was that a bribe, really? It’s not, because it’s not 1975.”
With the NBC network pulling the plug on the Golden Globes indefinitely after last year’s ceremony, stars including Tom Cruise returning their awards and Hollywood publicists refusing to allow their talent to be interviewed by HFPA members, the organisation has been working hard to win back the trust of the industry and the public. It’s announced a number of reforms at the organisation, among them expanding its voting pool to include some black members and clarifying that press conferences – and the practice of stars posing for photos with members – will no longer be regarded as a requirement for securing a nomination.
As part of the reforms, the HFPA’s interim CEO, the sports and entertainment billionaire Todd Boehly, is understood to have proposed turning it from a non-profit organisation to a business venture that would – according to a document seen by outlets including the industry website Deadline – “offer members the opportunity to share in its profits.” Members are understood to be divided over the idea.
So as it tries to reform amid claims of racism and corruption, the latest allegations of sexual harassment will be unwelcome for the HFPA leadership – not least just a week after Boehly signed a £2.5bn deal to buy Chelsea Football Club, with another £1.75bn investment to follow. The deal – which is expected to be completed by the end of the month – is dependent on those involved passing the Premier League’s Owners’ and Directors’ Test.
NB: To declare an interest, I have attended the Golden Globes as a guest of Husam Asi.