Kjersti Flaa is used to asking questions. She writes celebrity profiles for Norwegian magazines and does entertainment interviews for TV2’s “God Kveld Norge” (“Good Evening Norway”) as well as her own YouTube channel.
But on Monday, she became the story. Flaa had just filed a blockbuster lawsuit alleging that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association had schemed to deny her membership. Flaa unloaded a lot of dirty laundry, claiming that two Scandinavian reporters had campaigned against her membership because they worried she would compete with them for access to celebrities.
The suit accuses the group of acting like an illegal cartel, using its clout as the body that awards the Golden Globes to block non-members from getting work. Flaa alleges that the members never even read her clips when voting on her membership, and passed her over in favor of a less qualified Norwegian reporter. The HFPA denies her claims, and alleges that she tried to intimidate the group into accepting her.
In an interview with Variety, Flaa says she had no choice but to stand up for herself. In the process, she hopes to create a more inclusive and professional organization.
This must be not where you expected to end up, suing the Hollywood Foreign Press. So can you help me understand how you got here?
Yes. I’ve been working as a journalist for almost 20 years, and I moved to L.A. about five years ago from New York. And I’ve been covering the entertainment industry for a long time. Of course when you’re here in L.A. as an entertainment reporter, it would be a natural thing to think, “OK, I want to be part of this journalist organization covering entertainment.” I decided to apply in 2018, I had all the right requirements, and then from there I think you can read what happens in the claim.
Can you talk about your career and why it would be helpful to be in the HFPA?
I’ve been doing a lot of the typical press junkets for the last 12 years. I write for all the major newspapers and magazines in Norway. I also work for the biggest entertainment TV show in Norway, and I also have a YouTube channel that‘s been growing pretty fast, where I have almost 70 million views on my interviews. Of course it would be an amazing added bonus for me and for a lot of other journalists. I also see this for a lot of other foreign reporters in L.A. I’m not doing this only for myself. I’m doing this because I know so many other journalists that have gone through something similar.
The key question I was going to ask is how have you been harmed. The lawsuit talks about if you agree to join you can’t work for the publications the members work for. Have you felt that — being iced out of interviews or junkets because you’re not an HFPA member?
The HFPA gets access to about 300 press conferences a year. When you’re from a small territory like Norway, of course you’re not on the top of the list when it comes to publicity in movies, because you’re just covering what they would say is a smaller territory. It would be tremendous for me to have access to a lot more material.
You said there are other people who have felt shut out. Can you speak about their experience?
The experience can be pretty traumatic for most people, because you don’t get a fair process when you apply. You’re not judged on your professional work. Not to be judged on professional work when you’re a professional journalist, I don’t know the word to use…
It feels diminishing or insulting?
Of course. Of course it does.
What about the argument that the HFPA — there’s only 87 of them. Some people don’t take the Golden Globes too seriously — what about the idea that you don’t need to be part of it?
I see your point, but I think it would be amazing if the Hollywood Foreign Press is filled with a lot of professional journalists. That’s kind of my whole game here that I want to try and achieve. I think it’s an amazing organization in so many ways, because it represents foreign journalists. But I think they need to add more professional journalists, and I think that will change the organization.
You see a future where the Hollywood Foreign Press is respected and runs in an orderly, professional way.
I hope so. I think sometimes things won’t change from the inside. Maybe they just need a little push from the outside to change. But I do hope I can contribute to that in a positive way. I’m not out after getting anyone. I’m just out after making things better. And I think for journalists in general today it is an occupation that, it’s tougher and tougher to make a living from this as you probably know.
You were rejected in 2018 and again in 2019, and in 2020, according to the suit, they’ve changed the bylaws now so your TV work wouldn’t make you eligible. Did you feel like, “Here I am, I’m slaving away, I’m getting all these interviews, and it’s not recognized”?
Yeah. When I was rejected, I entered these journalist competitions. My profile on Jane Fonda took second place at the SoCal Journalism Awards Contest in 2018, and my TV interview with Henry Winkler was recognized as second runner up by the 12th National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards in 2019. I wanted to prove that I’m a good journalist. But y’know, that is not a plus when you apply to the HFPA. The more you show and the better you are, that doesn’t necessarily help you.
Well, the more of a threat you are?
I don’t want to say that, but yeah I guess some people could say that.
When did you realize “I’m going to sue these people”?
I don’t know if I can say this. They did something that kind of triggered it, when I realized there was a scheme going on behind my back that was a little too much. I felt like I needed to be able to defend myself. They went out of their way to make sure that I wouldn’t be accepted.
Many people would probably say, “Why don’t you just give it up, or wait some years, and do what they usually ask people to do?” But I felt that, y’know what, I’m going to stand up for myself and all the other entertainment journalists in L.A.
Of course it’s a huge thing to do. It’s not something easy to decide to do, but I just think it’s the right thing to do.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.