On a December day after the agencies and studios had closed for the holidays, one office in Los Angeles was still a whirlwind of activity. Inside a quaint English tudor-style building in West Hollywood, through a lobby decorated with Saltillo tiles and giant portraits of Elizabeth Taylor and Linda Evans, Meher Tatna,
the president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, was busy preparing for Hollywood’s giddiest night: the Golden Globes.
“It’s like 100 weddings in one,” said Tatna, a Mumbai-born reporter for the Singapore daily The New Paper,
who was elected to run the organization of 90 international entertainment journalists in June. “The Globes are like a machine. We have a pre-show with Facebook. A post-show with Twitter. And then we have a Chinese platform coming this year. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking, I didn’t answer this e-mail, I better get back to this person.
The Golden Globes are, frankly, relatively meaningless. But they are a damn good time—the most watched awards show besides the Oscars, and an opportunity for visibility in the entertainment industry. As head of the H.F.P.A., the oft-derided nonprofit organization that votes on the awards, Tatna is the evening’s unofficial hostess. In a way, she is also a perfect woman for this job at a moment when Hollywood is examining its own sexist, racist, dishonest habits. She has endured butt pinches as a waitress, offensive casting calls as an actress, and uncertain economics as a print reporter (Tatna declined to disclose her age). She’s interested in reclaiming the H.F.P.A.’s reputation, cemented years ago as a boorish group of semi-working, easily corrupted journalists. As acerbic Golden Globes host Ricky Gervais
said during the 2010 show, “One thing that can’t be bought is a Golden Globe . . . officially. But if you were to buy one, the man to see would be [H.F.P.A. head] Philip Berk.
During our interview, Tatna rejected many of the adages about the group. The idea that the H.F.P.A. nominates films and TV shows based simply on luring the biggest stars to its show? “No. Otherwise we would have had Julia Roberts
this year [for Wonder
],” Tatna said. That they are won over by lavish gifts from studios? “We have a rule that no gifts in excess of $95 can be given to us,” Tatna said. “That’s what we remind all the publicists every year. . . . In the past, we’ve returned things.” Last year, for instance, they gave back Tom Ford perfume intended to promote his movie, Nocturnal Animals.
The first major awards handed out in the #MeToo age, this year’s Golden Globes will likely be different than all that came before, with actresses pledging to wear black gowns and the usually frivolous red carpet taking on a new seriousness. “I am really glad that women are finally feeling safe enough to come forward and talk about their experiences,” Tatna said. “I am totally in solidarity with them. It’s not just in Hollywood that this happens. I was a waitress—the groping and pinching happened . . . back then, nobody felt safe enough to say anything. You thought you’d be fired; you thought you would be ostracized. So yeah, I’m really glad that they found that power, and I hope that this is a time of profound change.”
There have been some suggestions that the H.F.P.A. itself ought to evolve, including from actress Jada Pinkett Smith
—who called out
its members’ failure to attend a screening or to nominate her film Girls Trip.
“We did have a screening of it. We were invited to the premiere as well. There was a junket in New Orleans that we didn’t attend, but we were invited to go,” Tatna said, in response to Pinkett Smith’s remarks. “We always look at the distribution in our territories. If the movie doesn’t open there, then people generally don’t need the press conference. . . . I myself saw it on a screener. I didn’t make the screening. There’s a difference between being a journalist and being a Golden Globe voter. I’m not sure if everybody understands that.”
Tatna did make it to a dramatic, last-minute screening of Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World after Scott raced to replace Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer in time for the group’s early December deadline. “We went over to Sony at 10 in the morning. It wasn’t totally 100 percent finished, it needed some color correction . . . but we’ve seen movies in that shape before. Silence, Martin Scorsese’s film, was not completely finished. So we are used to that.”
Tatna’s path to the Beverly Hilton ballroom has been a long and winding one. Her father imported liquor in India (“He was a lousy businessman,” she said) and she grew up with a particular affinity for Hollywood musicals, like My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music. She wanted to act—but as a compromise with her parents, who were skeptical of a career in the arts, she majored in economics on a scholarship at Brandeis University.
After graduation she moved to New York City and pursued acting, appearing on a soap opera and at one point voicing various Indian women on The Simpsons. “They always told me to crank up the accent,” Tatna said, of her acting days. “That was very annoying, but that was at a time when the only Indians that you saw were 7-Eleven clerks and taxi drivers, and that was what I was up for. And you either decide to do it or you don’t and when you don’t have too many choices, sometimes you do.”
Eventually, she moved to L.A., bought a Plymouth Reliant on a salvage license, and began to pay more of her bills with entertainment journalism than acting. The state of journalism, especially newspapers like the one that employs her and many of her colleagues in the H.F.P.A., is an issue that weighs on her mind. “A lot of us are finding that our outlets are shrinking and the work is not as much as it used to be,” Tatna said. “Now you are competing with the influencers and the kids who make videos rolling around in bed.”
When Tatna took on the H.F.P.A. president job, one of the first things she did was reach out to studio executives. “I would call up and say, give me 10 minutes, let me come say hello and tell you who I am. . . . Just give us more access, set visits, lift embargoes earlier for us. That kind of thing is important for the members.” She’s also eager for people to remember the H.F.P.A. is a nonprofit, which doles out much of the millions it earns from the Golden Globes TV rights to schools, theaters, and film preservation efforts. Though her Golden Globes votes are secret, she’s still a fan at heart—Game of Thrones and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are two particular favorites.
On Sunday, Tatna will appear on stage at the Beverly Hilton for 45 seconds to deliver some remarks during the telecast—a rare moment in the spotlight after a decade toiling backstage in the press room, where reporters from some 200 outlets, including Vanity Fair, sit elbow-to-elbow. “I always have to watch the show on tape to write my article,” Tatna said. “I’m really looking forward to sitting in the ballroom this year.”