A member of the Golden Globes' Hollywood Foreign Press Association has leveled an ugly charge of racism against it for rejecting a rare application by a black journalist to join the 84-member group.
Samantha Ofole-Prince (pictured left from her Twitter feed), described to me by the member as "a highly-experienced Los Angeles-based black U.K. journalist who writes for mainly African, Caribbean and black British press" lost, with just 33 votes.
The member declined to be identified for fear of retaliation.
The group admitted one new member: a Dane named Tina Johnk Christensen.
According to the insider present at the vote, Ofole-Prince's opponents "insinuated, Jim Crow-style, that she was unqualified based on no evidence whatsoever (in fact, directly contradicted by actual evidence of her experience and qualifications). And they carried the vote."
According to her Twitter feed, Ofole-Prince is the entertainment editor for CaribPress News-magazine and freelance writer for other entertainment publications.
According to the insider, the opponents included such powerful members as Judy Solomon, Yoram Kahana, Philip Berk, Lorenzo Soria and Scott Orlin. In the days leading up to Wednesday's membership vote, they "conducted a fevered, if incoherent, email and personal lobbying campaign to keep Ofole-Prince out," said this person.
But in an interview, Solomon said that Ofole-Prince did not provide the four clippings required by the group's bylaws to be admitted. "Why I voted against her is she because she didn't follow the bylaws," said Solomon. "I felt that if I really wanted to join association I'd have clippings ready."
Solomon said the charge of racism was insulting. "I never look at color," she said.
A spokesman for the HFPA also rejected the charge. "Any allegation regarding the organization and claiming any race issues is outrageous," the spokesman told TheWrap. He said he was not aware why Ofole-Prince was rejected.
Kahana wrote in an email to TheWrap: "Samantha did not meet the requirements. A clear majority of the membership understood it and agreed and voted accordingly. By a reversed proportion they voted to accept a fully qualified applicant. An accusation of racism...is a self evident and desperate attempt at misdirection, and is rather despicable."
Also read: Hollywood Foreign Press Elects 3 New Members
Soria wrote TheWrap: "Mrs Ofole-Prince did not meet the requirements, for the second time in three years. Your source knows also very well that racism or 'aura' of racism has nothing to do with this."
It should be noted that many applicants are rejected the first time they apply. (Many are rejected multiple times. More on that later.)
TheWrap also reached out individually to the other members, who did not respond by time of publication.
I have frequently written over the years that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and the Golden Globe awards suffer from a lack of credibility because the membership is absurdly narrow. (There are other problems, but this remains the fundamental one.)
Now the question is: why reject a qualified foreign journalist when at the moment the group has not a single black member, and only two Africans to represent the whole of sub-Saharan Africa – both white, both from South Africa?
The insider cited another recent case that some members thought had racial overtones, a battle to admit a Palestinian writer, Husam "Sam" Asi. He was ultimately admitted.
Said the insider: "Racism is pretty rampant in sections of the HFPA, particularly among the older members."
Again, the HFPA spokesman said this idea was "outrageous."
I have heard this before, but here's the deal: the politics and cronyism embedded in the very fabric of the HFPA gives the notion of seeking diversity a different context from, say, the 6,000-member Motion Picture Academy, which is overwhelmingly white and male and desperately needs to diversify.
The HFPA is heavily skewed toward Europeans, with its membership more a function of personal relationships, power plays and protectionism over writing assignments (the members don't want competition from journalists vying for their freelance gigs). There are members of color: one from Bangladesh, not exactly a major film market; one from India, and a few from Asia.
Shockingly, there is not a single black member of the group.
A big part of the problem is that the group takes only three new members a year. And in the recent years of economic strain, there are probably fewer viable foreign candidates to join the HFPA than was previously the case.
But as I've written before, there is no justification for an association with such power, perks and so lucrative a franchise to keep out any legitimate foreign journalist. (Especially when plenty of members barely qualify as journalists.)
It is certainly not the first time that the group has shut out qualified foreign journalists for no evident reason. I wrote years ago about a Le Monde correspondent and another from New Zealand, who never knew why they were rejected. The group doesn't explain its decisions to anyone.
I have no idea why Ofole-Prince was shut out of the group. But the HFPA should admit more than three members a year, and actively seek ways to expand its membership.
I welcome comment from the HFPA and any members who seek to share.