Neil Phillips was brought aboard the Hollywood Foreign Press Association as its first-ever chief diversity officer at a time when the group is still trying to recover from an industry boycott of the Golden Globes over not having a single Black member among its ranks — and missing its own public targets to address the issue. But in stating his goals for diversity at the HFPA, Phillips said his work goes beyond helping the organization save face.
“With the challenges in the recent months, I saw, still see, and more importantly felt and still see an authentic and deep commitment to long-term transformation and sustained effort in this area. This is much more than trying to help an organization weather a storm or emerge from a crisis,” Phillips told TheWrap Thursday. “It’s not what it’s about for me, and it’s not what it’s about for the HFPA leadership. This is about long-term elevation, heightened awareness, embracing an entirely new opportunity for impact as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Earlier this year, the HFPA invited an additional 21 members, bringing its total membership to 103. Six of those members are Black — far short of the 13 new Black members that the group had pledged in March to add by year’s end — though all the first-time members will be able to vote for this year’s Golden Globes. Despite losing NBC as a broadcast partner for the 2022 ceremony, the HFPA still intends to hand out awards on January 9 in a ceremony whose details have yet to be announced.
Phillips acknowledged the challenges ahead. “We need more” Black members, he said, and “we’re going to get more.” The HFPA will hold another membership round this spring, though he wouldn’t speak to exact numbers of how many Black members he hopes to reach.
“Those six and the numbers to come are going to help to enhance the stature of the HFPA because they’re great and capable professionals and they’re going to add to the organization and add to the industry,” he said. “I don’t think simply in terms of numbers. I don’t think that’s the right approach. I know that we need more representation from Black journalists in the organization and we’re going to get that, but we’re going to approach that in a much more holistic way.”
He’ll also be tasked with winning back the industry that has boycotted the Golden Globes, proving to Hollywood at large that the organization’s reforms are serious. Phillips said “we have to do the work” and praised the steps taken in the last few months. And before long, he’s sure his work will be able to convince the “doubters” and skeptics.
“We have to continue to do the work. There’s nothing about this work that’s a quick fix. There’s nothing about it that’s a quick fix, and people who understand all the different dimensions recognize that. So we have to do what we’ve been doing, make necessary changes, adhere to those changes and continue to do the work in a sustainable way,” he said. “It’s my hope and certainly my expectation that people see the work, the benefits and the fruits of that labor and efforts, and the HFPA can continue to have the impact it has had over the last 78 years.”
Phillips joins the HFPA as an outsider, coming from a background as a speaker known for his “Race to Truth” talks, an entrepreneur and an educator who founded the Visible Men Academy, a charter school located in Bradenton, Florida. He admits that he has a lot to learn about the media and entertainment world, but he believes that there are similarities across diversity, equity and inclusion that run across any industry.
“When you do that work, you are never far from issues about equal human value, representation and creation of opportunities, elevated expectations. So I have been doing work on diversity, equity and inclusion long before it was labeled as such. This is the work that I do. Now it’s going to take a different form and take that form in a different arena.
The HFPA overhauled its bylaws around new membership, creating a nine-person credentials committee made up of four HFPA members and five non-members to review applications for membership. The group also eliminated the requirement to obtain sponsorship from a member.
Phillips defended the makeup of the new members and also the processes by which they are being selected, saying that the 21 new members, who join a previous roster of 84, represents a 25% increase and a larger amount of new members than the HFPA has admitted previously.
“When you’re looking at the constitution and makeup of a particular organization, whatever their challenges in under-representation, we don’t often look deeply enough into processes and procedures and policies, and the HFPA has done that and looked at how it has functioned in the past and said no, we need to make some changes to increase our eligibility pool,” Phillips said. “These are really highly capable professionals who are going to contribute to an organization of impact, that’s had impact, for 78 years, and that impact is going to continue in the future.”
Phillips will also be responsible for overseeing the culture of the HFPA. He declined to comment on TheWrap’s earlier report that two members who had resigned the HFPA this year were referred to in leaked emails as “rats” and “cancer” on the organization or any other past events, but he said he expects the organization and its members to act with “integrity” and that he “cannot be the only one doing that work.”
“I have a clear expectation of each our members individually and our organization collectively, acting with integrity, acting in ways that elevate one another, that don’t demean one another and being the best of who we can be, individually and collectively. That’s who I have been my entire life and who I plan to be in this role with the HFPA.”