The Hollywood Critics Association, which had recently been hit with allegations of malfeasance and accused of harboring a hostile membership environment, has completed an organizational restructuring that it believes will address those issues. The HCA was set to reveal those plans to its 180 members this afternoon, including a new name: The Hollywood Creative Alliance.
Hollywood Critics Association leader (and We Live Entertainment journo) Scott Menzel, who was at the center of much of the controversy, will still remain as CEO/president, but will be joined by a new board: vice chair Yong Chavez of ABS-CBN; member engagement head Jeandra LeBeauf of Black Girl Nerds; secretary Morgan Rojas of Cinemacy; and treasurer Louis Valentine, an external CPA who will handle finances as an outside member. The HCA holds several awards shows every year that have been well attended by A-list talent, including ceremonies for both TV and film.
The restructure was handled by Menzel with the guidance of corporate operation strategist Leslie Short of the Cavu Group. Under Short’s instruction, the HCA was reformed as a 501 c6 membership-based non-profit organization. The organization also put together an extensive member handbook with rules and membership requirements, as well as a code of conduct, all of which will have to be signed and agreed to by members. That handbook will also spell out voting procedures for the org’s HCA Awards.
Current members will be invited to join committees such as membership/culture, in-house content, events, a creative arts nominating committee, a film committee for shortlists and a television nomination committee. A new advisory committee aims to recruit industry insiders to help consult with the org.
The decision to bring in Short came after former HCA board president Nikki Fowler resigned in June, blaming a “hostile, biased and dismissive executive work environment.” And Fowler’s exit came after the HCA had already been under fire in 2022 when a then-member, Shannon McGrew, took to social media to question some of the group’s procedures, including how funds were handled internally. That led to a very public back-and-forth online between members, followed by resignations by several members (including some Variety staffers).
“I listened to what members were saying and I saw what was online,” Short said. “I spoke with Scott and some of the other folks that were there helping with leadership roles that were very loose. It was a loose organization that was running. I said, ‘this is great, but you’re going nowhere fast.’ There is potential. But we have to really build a foundation of what is this organization. Is it a nonprofit? Is it registered as a nonprofit? What does the name mean? What is the mission? What is the vision? How are you speaking to members? How do members feel?”
Short said “transparency” was something that frequently came up in conversations, but she instead uses the term “visibility.” That led to the creation of the handbook. “Everything is written down now,” she said. “Of course, anything can go on paper. We also put in place people who are going to be responsible and accountable for those committees and those divisions. We’re going to keep it tight in the beginning and then gave them room to grow.”
After a Hollywood Reporter expose on HCA noted that the org had failed to file the proper papers with the IRS, Menzel and Short said that has also been sorted out during a top-to-bottom overhaul. “We went from the business of creating a nonprofit that is registered that was with the correct attorneys to the name,” Short said.
Indeed, the most immediate shift is the decision to remove “critics” from the HCA’s name. Founded in 2016 as the Los Angeles Online Film Critics Society, the group was renamed by Menzel to the Hollywood Critics Association in late 2019.
“In these past two and a half months, we really took the time to talk to membership,” Menzel said. “We did phone calls, we did surveys. And the biggest surprise of doing those surveys was that several members of our organization did not identify as critics. We put a list together of what you would identify as, including publicist, actor, filmmaker, content creator, and it was pretty alarming to see that most people were either checking multiple boxes, and a large percentage of people who weren’t critics. The biggest thing that came down to it was, is this name the right name for the future?”
As the Hollywood Creative Alliance, Menzel said the plan is to make it clearer that the organization is made up of “critics, entertainment journalists, content creators, industry influencers and creatives.” It also reflects the HCA’s move into creating its own content, including podcasts, screening series, a magazine and after shows. Menzel said keeping the “critics” name would be “lying to the public.”
“If we said we are a critics organization, we’re not,” he said. “We have the opportunity now as part of this restructure to rebrand and become something that is kind of all-encompassing of this industry… it’s the future of what everyone’s doing. We’re all in a lot of ways creatives, we’re all content creators, whether you’re a filmmaker, a YouTuber, a podcaster, that’s the direction everyone’s going in.”
Menzel and Short said only critics and entertainment journalists will vote for the HCA Awards, however: “Because we’re just starting this relaunch and the critics and entertainment journalists have always been the anchor, that’s really important to us to make sure that they’re still front and center for right now,” Menzel added.
Asked about the very public group in-fighting, Short said, “I’m not going to say one person is wrong and one person is right. I’m going to say that there are issues, clearly, that if someone is feeling that way, we need to look to see why. Part of that was making sure that there are process and procedures. Now we set it up that here’s different ways you can have voices within the organization. And if you have issues, here’s who you go to. Everything that I did, I looked through its DEI as well as restructure. Race, gender, LGBTQ+, disabilities…. we’re going to be doing workshops to speak about it, whether it’s microaggressions, bias, racism. What does that mean to each person, and what will be and won’t be tolerated within the organization. That’s why we also build a code of conduct that everyone will need to sign off on.”
Menzel and Short didn’t directly address Fowler’s exit, but Short added that she would continue to consult for another month to help with the implementation of the group’s reforms. “You can’t go out and fight something or someone’s feeling,” she said. “You have to go in and do the work. So, this relaunch will be the work. That’s the work that Scott has put in for the last two and a half months. It doesn’t come that we’re announcing this and then I’m disappearing. Now, we’ve got to roll it out and maintain the work.”
With Menzel remaining in charge, he is taking the criticism of his management of the organization head-on — while also admitting that the drama over the past year “has had a huge impact on my mental health, on my wife’s mental health. And personally, it really wasn’t until Leslie came on board and did these daily meetings that I was able to move past it.”
Menzel said he is neurodivergent, “and it’s something where I hyper focus on things. And then when something negative happens, it becomes my sole existence. For the past year, I’ve been reliving every single thing in my life… I think a lot of the information that was out there was misinformation. I think it came from the lack of structure, of guidance, and frankly, doing this organization as something that I never envisioned it becoming. I can explain myself to death. But we have to think about the future. And the future was for me to sit back and say, even if ‘x, y and z’ are not true, maybe someone felt some sort of way about it. How do I fix that? To make sure it doesn’t happen again. And that’s what this is all about. It’s fixing and elevating.”
Short added that given that past criticism, “there’s new leadership. So, Scott won’t be a man on the island, trying to figure this out. People are jumping in to help. There is now going to be a vice chair, a head of member engagement. There’s an outside agency that will handle treasury. So, there is a core, true leadership, and then there’ll be an advisory committee of industry insiders. I think that’s one of the biggest things, that there is structure. Where there was a lack of structure. Listen, the light switch is not going to switch and everything’s going to be great. This is going to be a process.”
Next up for the HCA is the HCA Film Awards, which will take place on Jan. 6, 2024, followed by the postponed HCA TV Awards, which have already been voted on, and will be revealed at an event on Jan. 8, 2024. The HCA Creative Awards will take place on Feb. 26, 2024.