The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) picked a fraught year to nominate Brendan Fraser for his first Golden Globe. In 2018, Fraser—nominated for best actor in a drama for his role in The Whale—told GQ that former HFPA president Philip Berk sexually assaulted him in 2003. In November, Fraser confirmed that if invited, he would not attend this year’s award ceremony, to be broadcast live on NBC on Jan. 10.
Last year, amid swirling controversy, the network declined to broadcast the Golden Globes. The decision followed an explosive report by the Los Angeles Times in February 2021, which confirmed rumors that had been circulating the industry for years: ethical and financial conflicts ran rampant among the HFPA. And the organization, which had billed itself as “diverse,” had no Black members. Now, however—nominally, at least—the HFPA is working to “eliminate ethical conflicts” and make its membership more diverse.
In mid-December, the same day it announced nominations, the HFPA sent out a press release that reported the increased diversity of its board of directors to include 40% people of color. (Three of the board’s current 15 members are Black.) The voting body itself doubled in size to 200 voters, 19.5% of whom are Latinx, 12% of whom are Asian, 10% of whom are Black, and 10% of whom are Middle Eastern. And the organization has been working closely with the NAACP to “increase diverse representation throughout the industry.”
But unlike the Oscars or the Emmys, the Globes have always represented the tastes of a small group who work adjacent to but outside of the industry. As TIME TV critic Judy Berman put it, “it’s worth considering not just whether the Globes have improved as an institution over the past two years, but also whether they ever merited our attention—or their outsize stature within the industry—in the first place.”
Here’s what to know about Fraser’s relationship with the HFPA.
Fraser’s allegations against Philip Berk
From the 1990s to the early 2000s, Fraser was a breakout Hollywood fixture, starring in films like School Ties (1992), George of the Jungle (1997), and The Mummy (1999). Eventually, though, he receded from view.
Fifteen years after the alleged incident, Fraser came forward to GQ journalist Zach Baron with an account of what he said happened at a luncheon held by the HFPA at the Beverly Hills Hotel in the summer of 2003.
Berk, Fraser told GQ, had sexually assaulted him. He went on to describe the alleged assault in detail. “I felt ill,” he continued. “I felt like a little kid. I felt like there was a ball in my throat. I thought I was going to cry. I felt like someone had thrown invisible paint on me.”
Berk has denied and disputed Fraser’s account, and he remained president of the HFPA after both the incident itself and the publication of the GQ article. It was only in April 2021, after 44 years at the helm, that Berk was fired. The expulsion happened two days after Berk emailed the HFPA membership an article that described Black Lives Matter as a “racist hate movement.”
The incident at the Beverly Hills Hotel was the last in a slew of reasons—including the death of his mother, a divorce, and physical health issues after years of stunt-heavy roles—that contributed to Fraser disappearing from the public eye shortly after the turn of the century. The actor said he was rarely invited back to the Golden Globes.
“I don’t know if this curried disfavor with the group, with the HFPA,” Fraser told GQ. “But the silence was deafening. In my mind, at least, something had been taken away from me.”
Separately, Scarlett Johansson has also said that questions and remarks by HFPA members at press conferences have “bordered on sexual harassment.”
Fraser’s nominated performance in The Whale
In mid-December, Fraser was nominated for best actor in a drama motion picture for his role as Charlie in The Whale. Directed by Darren Aronofsky and based on a 2012 play of the same name by Samuel D. Hunter (who also wrote the screenplay), The Whale follows Charlie—a gay, reclusive, obese English teacher—as he desperately tries to repair his relationship with his teenage daughter (Stranger Things’ Sadie Sink).
The film debuted at the Venice Film Festival at the end of summer, where Fraser received a six-minute standing ovation for his performance. He is now projected to be nominated for an Oscar for best actor—and favored to win the category.
“The film is at times incredibly moving, thanks to Fraser’s refined, mournful performance,” writes TIME film critic Stephanie Zacharek. “That’s Fraser at work, not telling us what to feel, but reassuring us that it’s OK to feel.”
Controversy persists, however, over the film and the character. Some, like Mean Girls’ Daniel Franzese, have pointed out that plenty of queer actors—especially larger ones—would have jumped at the chance to snag the role.
“I love Brendan Fraser, [so] I’m very conflicted,” Franzese told People. “Seeing him get up so modest in Venice and have that moment, I was very happy for him. But why? Why go up there and wear a fat suit to play a 400-lb. queer man?”
Fraser wore a fat suit—which at times weighed up to 300 pounds—to play Charlie, who weighs 600 pounds in the film. The use of fat suits alone has drawn criticism from those who question their necessity and the motives behind them—a debate that The Whale has reignited. Fat suits have historically been used to ostracize and ridicule the characters who wear them; The Whale attributes Charlie’s rapid, bleak decline to his obesity.
Fraser’s reaction to the nomination
In the wake of his performance’s warm critical reception—and his return to the spotlight—GQ followed up with Fraser in November. The actor would not attend the Golden Globes if he was invited, he confirmed.
“I have more history with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association than I have respect for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association,” Fraser said. “No, I will not participate.”
“It’s because of the history that I have with them,” he continued. “And my mother didn’t raise a hypocrite. You can call me a lot of things, but not that.”
Fraser also said that, at the moment, he did not believe in any of the HFPA’s announced reforms. (These include a new grievance process with a confidential reporting hotline and new bylaws that provide for sanctions such as suspension, expulsion, and termination.)
But the actor pointed out that it wasn’t just about him. There were others, he said, who shared his story. If the HFPA really was to change, Fraser wanted it to be meaningful for them, too.
It remains to be seen whether the lectern will be empty when the best actor in a drama winner is called—and whether Fraser’s history with the Globes will affect his chances. For now, though, pundits are giving a slight edge in the category to Elvis star Austin Butler.