Academy Clarifies Its Rules Determining Members' Voting Rights

Christopher Polk/Getty Images

Admitting it "failed" in an earlier attempt to devise a formula, the Board of Governors is explaining to its members how it will decide who is "active" in the business, leaving the final determination up to each of its 17 branches.

Admitting that it “failed” in its original attempt in January to devise a “one size fits all rule” regarding the voting rights of its members, the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has sent a new letter to its members clarifying how voting status will be determined and leaving it up to the organization’s 17 branches to devise their own particular rules for their members.

Acknowledging “some anger and frustration” on the part of members who feared losing their voting status because they had retired or who felt they were being accused of racial bias in their choice of Oscar nominees, the letter seeks to reassure the membership by stating, “If you have spent a lifetime in motion pictures, you will not lose your vote.” It further emphasizes, “You will not lose your voting privileges simply because you’re retired or haven’t been active for a while. There is nothing ageist about this. In fact, these new guidelines advantage those with longer careers over shorter careers.”

The letter then lays out in detail a process for determining voting eligibility that it says is “fair, inclusive and transparent.”

The Academy will use what it calls “activity” in the film business as its first criterion in determining voting rights. But it is now explicitly setting out how that “activity” will be determined. This year’s new members, the letter explains, will be given an automatic right to vote for 10 years, but the clock starts ticking on that 10-year term not when the member is admitted, but from an earlier period when the member completed what it calls “first qualifying work.” Since many members often have a significant body of work by the time they’re invited to join the Academy, by linking voting eligibility to earlier work, the Academy will be giving members credit for previous years’ activity in the business.

A member who has been active during his or her first 10-year term will have voting rights renewed for a second 10-year term, and if they remain active during that term, their voting rights will be renewed for a third 10-year term, and if they’re active during that term, they will be vested with lifetime voting rights. The Academy said the three 10-year terms don’t have to be consecutive, but that alternatively a member could secure lifetime voting rights in as few as 21 years after a “first qualifying work.”

In order to apply the new rules retroactively to existing members, the board said, it will rely on each of its branches to decide what counts as an individual member’s “first qualifying work.” “The idea here,” the letter said, “is to specifically design the criteria so they’re fair and inclusive to each branch."

For example, it notes that since production designers often do not earn their first production designer credit until well into their careers, the designers branch could choose a different point in a designer's career as a "first qualifying work."

Similarly, it acknowledges that producers, writers and others can work for years without earning screen credits, “so those branches will come up with their own definitions, based on employment and not screen credit, to make sure that people who remained active for a full career don’t lose their vote.”

And, as previously stated, members who receive an Oscar nomination will automatically earn lifetime voting rights.

According to the letter, the Academy’s bylaws have not guaranteed lifetime voting rights since the Academy underwent an earlier review of its membership in 1970. But the new rules will guarantee lifetime voting for those who qualify under the rules.

The letter concluded by saying the new rules about voting rights are not part of its ongoing diversity initiative. “This initiative, required by our bylaws, has to do with relevance,” the board said before concluding, “adhering to our existing bylaws in this regard is our best assurance that we will continue to retain the crucial relevance of our awards, and continue to maintain the Academy’s standard of excellence.”

The complete text of the Academy's letter follows:

A letter to Academy members from the Board of Governors
 
There has been a lot of confusion about what we're planning to do regarding voting status, and this has resulted in some anger and frustration. Some members feel they will lose their voting privileges simply because they're retired. Some feel they are being accused of racial bias. Others feel they are being cast as "over the hill." None of these is true. In fact, most members who fear losing their vote, will not. So we want to clear up this confusion and ease your concerns.
 
Lifetime voting will be for "lifers." If you have spent a lifetime working in motion pictures, you will not lose your vote. We'll describe below how each branch will create the criteria to judge its members fairly and liberally, but we want you to know that the only members who will be moved to Emeritus status will be those who worked in motion pictures for a relatively short time, and then moved on to other things a long time ago. Voting will be for those who are — or were — the most active in motion pictures.
 
First, a little background. In 1970, the Academy passed a rule, still in our bylaws, stating that voting status is primarily for members who "continue to be active in the field of theatrical motion pictures." Further, the bylaws require that members' voting status "be subject to continuous review by the Board of Governors which shall make transfers of members from one classification to another as it deems advisable."
 
In other words, our bylaws have not allowed lifetime voting privileges for anyone since 1970. But they will now.
 
You will not lose your voting privileges simply because you're retired, or haven't been active for a while. There is nothing ageist about this. In fact, these new guidelines advantage those with longer careers over those with shorter careers.
 
In addition, the bylaws allow for other criteria than just "activity." These include members who are "highly qualified to vote on the Academy's several awards, have continued to be credited with outstanding screen achievements, or otherwise have achieved such unique distinction, earned such special merit or made such a substantial contribution to the motion picture arts and sciences, as to warrant continued active membership."
 
So while "activity" remains our first criterion, your branch can take other factors into account as well to allow you to retain your voting privileges. Again, we want voting for those who are, or were, the most active, but we also want to be inclusive and fair. The benefit of the doubt goes to the member.
Here's how the rules will work.
 
Beginning with this year's class, new members will be given an automatic ten-year term of voting privileges, starting not at time of admission, but at an earlier point: "first qualifying work" (see below). If they are active in motion pictures during this first ten-year period, they will automatically be granted voting privileges for a second ten year term. If they are active at all during that second term, they will receive a third ten-year term. If they're active at any time during that third term, they will be vested with lifetime voting rights. (The three ten-year terms do not have to be consecutive, and if you do the math, you'll see that the requirement can be met in as little as 21 years from "first qualifying work.") In addition, if they ever receive an Oscar nomination, they will be vested with lifetime voting privileges. That's how new members will be treated from this year on. Now, here's how we'll apply these very inclusive standards to current members.
 
In our initial resolution we tried, but failed, to come up with a "one size fits all" definition of activity that could fairly be applied Academy-wide. That was the language that unintentionally caused so much confusion and anger. So we're fixing that.
 
Just as with new members, we will not start the first "ten-year clock" at the beginning of your membership, which for many, occurred well into your distinguished careers. We will start the clock at your "first qualifying work." And here's more good news: We will also let each branch decide how to define what it means to remain "active." The idea here is to specifically design the criteria so they're fair and inclusive for each branch. And finally, all members will have the right to appeal any decision regarding voting status directly to their peers on their branch's Executive Committee.
Here are some examples.
 
Quite a few branches can easily define their criteria by screen credits. But producers, writers, and others, can work for years without getting credit. So those branches will come up with their own definitions, based on employment and not screen credit, to make sure that people who remained active for a full career don't lose their vote.
 
Many Production Designers do not get their first Production Designer credit until well into their careers, so requiring them to have three ten-year terms since their first Production Designer credit would be unfair. That branch will define another starting point to allow people with full careers to keep their vote.
 
In the next two months, each branch's executive committee will come up with its own way of defining these things, so that it's eminently fair and inclusive for their members. Members will be informed of their voting status by the end of July.
 
Again, the philosophy here is that lifetime voting is for people who put a lifetime into motion pictures.
 
Those members who will be moved to Emeritus status will be only those few who both have not worked in a long time AND who did not work for a long time when they were active. There are members who had relatively short careers, then moved long ago to other professions; that's who we will look to move to Emeritus status.
 
Finally, why are we doing this? Despite what you may have heard, and despite the timing of our announcement, this proposal is actually not about diversity. We have other proposals to advance the growth of diversity. This initiative, required by our bylaws, has to do with relevance. One of the reasons the Oscar is considered the most important award in motion pictures is because of who votes for it. As long as everyone understands that we keep voting privileges for those who are — or were — the most active in motion pictures, we will retain their confidence, and the awards will retain their enormous value. But if people are asking why someone with a short career many years ago is still voting for the Oscar after moving into an entirely different profession, it calls into question the relevance of that vote and the importance of the awards.
 
So, bottom line: If you satisfy the minimum requirements of career activity as determined by your own branch colleagues, or it is determined that you qualify by the other standards, you will keep your vote. If you haven't been active for a long time, and weren't that active to begin with, you might not. Adhering to our existing bylaws in this regard is our best assurance that we will continue to retain the crucial relevance of our awards, and continue to maintain the Academy's standard of excellence.
 
We hope this reassures you that the process will be fair, inclusive, and transparent. Almost all the decisions will be made at the branch level, where your colleagues best understand a career like yours and why you qualify for voting privileges.

comments powered by Disqus