Academy Governors to Revisit Diversity Initiatives

Cheryl Boone Isaacs Executive Suite - H 2014
Aaron Fallon

Cheryl Boone Isaacs Executive Suite - H 2014

At its first meeting since the Oscars, the organization's board of governors is expected to ratify, and possibly revise, some of the proposals originally passed in January.

The 88th Academy Awards behind it, the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is meeting Tuesday morning to reconsider the sweeping initiatives, first announced on Jan. 22, designed to make the Academy “significantly more diverse” by doubling the number of women and minority members in its ranks by 2020.

Traditionally, the first regularly scheduled board meeting after the Oscars focuses on a postmortem of the show, which this year, with Chris Rock at the helm, attracted just 34.4 million viewers, an eight-year low.

But there are other items on the agenda — specifically, the changes voted on at the last board meeting, on Jan. 21, designed to develop a more inclusive membership and also to open up the board and the organization’s various executive committees to new voices. While the Academy announced at the time that the changes had been passed unanimously by the 51-member board, the organization quickly ran up against the fine print of its own bylaws.

Bringing three new members onto the board — they will be appointed by the Academy president rather than elected by any of the group’s 17 branches, as is the case with the existing governors — amounts to a revision of the Academy’s bylaws. But under those same bylaws, such changes can be made only through a vote of the membership or a vote of the board of governors after the board is given a notice of the proposed revision 10 days in advance of its meeting. Since the Jan. 21 meeting did not include the 10-day advance notification of the proposed vote, the subject will be reintroduced at the March 15 meeting.

The proposal to add three new board seats, to be filled by women and people of color, is expected to pass once again. And president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who originally intended to announce the new board members in February, will likely move quickly to make the appointments.

A second initiative passed at the Jan. 21 could prove more contentious, though. As it goes about bringing a more diverse roster of new members into the organization, a process that has been underway for several years now, the Academy also announced plans to strip members who are no longer active in the film industry of their voting rights, moving them to emeritus status.

That plan, when it was publicly announced in January, ran into a buzz saw of criticism from older members fearful of losing their voting rights. As originally stated, the new rule would grant new members 10-year voting rights, subject to renewal, but would only guarantee lifetime voting to members who have been nominated for or won an Oscar or who have been active in the industry for three 10-year terms after they first joined the Academy. The Academy quickly issued a number of clarifications — among them an explanation that a member could fulfill the three-decade requirement in as few years as twelve years, if his or her jobs were ideally situated along that three-decade timeline. But those explanations didn’t reassure all the members.

The Academy is still expected to push for a version of the new formula, but one change that could get a hearing at the meeting is back-dating the three-decade requirement so that it begins with a member’s first film credits rather than starting when a member joined the Academy — since, in the case of some older invitees, there is the fear that their careers could come to an end before they have a chance to fulfill the three-decade rule. If passed, that revised rule would mean many fewer Academy members would be denied voting privileges — the Academy has yet to offer any estimates as to exactly how many members will be affected — but it would also make attempts to change the current makeup of the voting membership more of a challenge.

An Academy spokesperson declined to comment on the agenda for the meeting. But in another break with its usual practice, the board, which generally meets in the evening, has scheduled this particular meeting for early morning.